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Returning to Ourselves Through Food

Tshuvah, the Jewish idea of repentance is usually associated with Yom Kippur and atoning. But it’s actual meaning is return, an idea that Ilana Margolit, a nutritionist with a spiritual bent and Nigel Savage, the director of Hazon clarified in their Hazon East Coast Food Conference session “The Tshuvah of Feeding oneself,” this morning.

They applied the idea to food and the opportunity to use the act of eating and our food choices to return to our most pure and true. This opens up an interesting perspective when we look at our food habits. Instead of feeling guilty for eating bad foods or giving in when we have cravings, we can orient ourselves towards the experience of eating in such a way that we end up making the “healthy choices” for ourselves and not because our doctor, parent or nutritionist told us to. It is a truly liberating meal that leaves us desiring nothing.

Neglecting how we eat is doing ourselves (and the food) a disservice. If we take the time to notice what we are eating, and how we are eating it, we engage more than just our taste buds and digestive track. We are engaging our spirit. A relationship with one’s spirit is the necessary element for the return that tshuvah promises.

This is not to say that eating with intention and wholesomely comes without struggle. Savage acknowledged “take it as a given that we all struggle with food on some level.” Though he suggested, this struggle can be used as a learning experience. One way to begin this return is by asking ourselves the questions: “what do I really want when I’m having food cravings?” and “what does it mean to nourish myself?”

Margolit proposed practicing a ‘fuel test’ to gauge what foods leave us satisfied and energized versus which foods leave us hungry, bloated and with indigestion. The more we are aware of the affects of a meal on our physical and mental state, the better our choices will become, she explained.

Teachings and writings about fullness and healthy eating are an ancient part of Jewish tradition. The Rambam, in the 12th century instructed his followers to eat until they were 80% full. Eating slower and inline with the Rambam’s suggestion to stop before you’re full helps us relate to the feeling of consumption. This simple act can open us up towards making wiser choices when it comes to filling our stomach and will provide a better nourished body to house the spark of divinity that Judaism says is in us all.

The idea of food tshuvah sits perfectly within the context of the Food Conference as it tells all these hardworking food activists not to forget about their own bellies and nutrition. If this Food Movement has lasting power it will be because both those fighting for it and those benefiting from it have returned to their truest selves by making the food choices appropriate for them.


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