Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Retreating from food

The Trappist Abbey was the perfect place to forget about food. When I’ve been on Buddhist retreats, the food is simple but wonderful. The breakfast oatmeal is perfectly cooked as are the hard-boiled eggs. There are raisins, three kinds of sugar (brown, raw, honey), dried fruits, fresh fruits, four kinds of milk. Lunch is a stir-fry of fresh vegetables and a protein-rich grain cooked just right. Several good sauces have been lovingly prepared. Dinner is a big vegetable stew or soup with grated cheese to sprinkle on top. Someone works to keep freshly brewed herbal and black tea always available. We all look forward to the meals, eaten in silence but enjoyed in community.

Here’s the menu at the Abbey on Tuesday:

Breakfast (same each day): orange juice, milk, tea and coffee, little boxes of Total, Cheerios, Rice Krispies, Raisin Bran, overripe bananas, wheat bread, commercial peanut butter.

Lunch: Steamed yellow squash, green peppers stuffed with a tasteless undercooked rice and onion gruel, covered with unidentifiable cheese. White cabbage with bottled dressing. Wheat bread, commercial peanut butter.

Dinner: See lunch.

As you know, I’d been to the Abbey on day retreats years before. I knew the food was marginal, the kind of food that gives vegetarianism a bad name. And Monday’s supper was not very good. But Tuesday it was a time of surrender. I ate peanut butter and bread for breakfast, I ate peanut butter and bread for lunch. Miracle of miracles, I found some processed cheese slices in the fridge in the kitchen off the dining hall and made myself a bread, butter, and cheese sandwich for supper. I found apples in that fridge too and I ate some of those.

I stopped thinking about food as enjoyment, as treat, as salvation. Maybe that’s the point of what they serve.
But curiously, I also found myself not thinking about food. I had brought snack bars with me and I didn’t need them. I didn’t need food to slow down or de-stress or reward myself for a hard day or make a boring or difficult task palatable. I only needed it to not be hungry.

PS. I did stop for bacon, eggs, and hash browns in the first town I came to after I left the Abbey.

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