Mid-way through this 21-day cleanse, I was thinking a lot about human passion. Most animals have strong desires to eat, sleep, procreate, and recreate. Humans want to do that, too. But we want to be able to do all of those things while suspended 100 stories above the ground, after driving on enormous loops of concrete or possibly careening through the air in several tons of metal. Oh, and when we arrive and get down to addressing our basic needs, we want to have strains of Chopin glittering in the background, and room service with a sprig of parsley.
We want to build onto, break apart, dig into, and make over the world. We see what is there and think we could have something a whole lot better. Then we make that something. That’s what makes us human.
The 50-odd participants in this process have sunk into our deepest cleansing of the three-week odyssey. We eat mostly fruits and vegetables, adding grains and beans as necessary. There’s a “detox elixir” to drink each morning in this phase, consisting of varying ingredients but always including fresh fruit juices, ginger, cayenne pepper, and fresh garlic. It actually tastes pretty good. It all seems so healthy and delightful.
However, some of us are experiencing disappointment — a lack of satisfaction — with the food. On participant reported to the Google group that her colorful salad no longer appealed. All she wanted to do was run out and bite into a hamburger. “Or maybe even a whole chicken,” she added. Others reported the same thing. I think we all felt bad that we struggled to stick with it.
I admit to the same problem. The daily veggie-only regimen, with no salt or tasty condiments, got boring. I usually love to eat — looking forward to lunch or dinner with the relish of a smoker having a nic fit, anticipating the comfort of those first few puffs.
The opposite feeling exists, too. This week, I went back to an excellent essay “Turning Japanese” by Heidi Julavits. “While eating a bean cake,” the author writes of her experience with this mild dessert in Kyoto, “I reach a moment when I don’t need, or want, another bite. I experience what I believe is contentment…and despite what my layman’s notion of Zen Buddhist nongoal goals lead me to expect, it is no blissfest.” Later, she leaves Japan only to experience an intense craving for the Japanese breakfast dish tekka-don. She realizes: “I am broke and aimless, I am racked by doubt and worry, I crave a food that’s three thousand miles away and I’ve never experienced such bliss in my life.” To desire, for her, meant delight — not guilt. And no doubt she was ready to pick up the tatters of her post-college existence and get a move on.
What happens when food is just food? Just sustenance? Not sensuously satisfying when we bite in? Not an answer or an inspiration or part of a chain of concerns about our lives? We get disappointed. We have to look elsewhere. Or we just give up feeling passionate about anything.
One solution is to add a kick of excitement with the foods we can eat. So I’ve been making this “meaty” seaweed salad. Ellen, our fearless guide, recommended sauteed mushrooms.
Is this cheating? Should we make these substitutions in the interest of a little exultation of the taste buds? Or should we sit quietly with our blankness and see if it takes us by the hand and leads us somewhere?
Here’s the salad. Dig in if you wish.
Sea Veggie Passion Salad
1 tsp. fresh ginger, grated
2 tsp. umbeboshi plum or apple cider vinegar
1 Tbs. safflower or olive oil
1 tsp. sesame oil, toasted or raw
3/4 c. dried stringy seaweed, like hiziki or arame, soaked in hot water until tender, drained
1/2 medium daikon radish, shredded
1 carrot, shredded
1/2 fennel bulb, thinly sliced
In a small jar or cruet, combine the dressing ingredients and shake well. Set aside.
In a medium mixing bowl or storage container, combine salad ingredients. Toss well.
Pour dressing over salad and toss again to distribute. Eat right away or store for a day or two in the refrigerator. The flavors develop nicely after the salad has chilled for a while.