The Chicken

I love food. I love food so much I spent half my life trying to tell myself I hated food. Alas, despite my best efforts I indeed love the art of preparing and eating food from farm to belly. It brings me such great joy to have a refrigerator full of local produce and meat. Cutting, slicing and dicing is meditation. Creating artful plating of rustic homespun food is an extraordinary vinyasa of sensory delight. Knowing the source of products is like studying a great visionary’s work.

One Sunday night my Father asks me what I am up to.

“I’m cooking a chicken.” I tell him.

“Oh, that’s great. I love having a chicken” he replies with an audible smile.

“Yea, I love having a chicken.” I repeat equally as elated as the wafting smells of my Sunday summer permeate my home.

What I must explain to you is that if you are Jewish you have a chicken recipe. It is like some kind of domesticated Rite that you move through. My grandmother had a chicken recipe. My mother has her chicken recipe. My dad has his chicken recipe, aka buying a rotisserie chicken from the grocery. My uncles and aunts have their recipes.  I remember when I first nailed my chicken recipe. It was like an induction into Jewish cookery. I don’t know what this equates to in other faiths but for us, it is what Tevya (you know the guy from Fiddler On The Roof) says; “Tradition!”

Now of course if you are vegan I probably just offended you. I eat chicken. I apologize for my fowl behaviors.  I know our views do not always match in terms of what we should be eating for health of all beings. Having been vegan, vegetarian, raw, paleo and more I am not really interested in the “what diet are you?” conversation anymore. I am interested in what is sustainable in concentric circles from you body, to your family, to your community, to your society, to your planet. I am also very interested in tradition. I am curious about what my grandmothers ate and prepared. I am interested in how that can become my own.

I have dedicated my life to the practice, art and science of embodiment. Food is one of those doorways for me. Of course the irony is that food, for so many of us, can be the doorway out of our bodies. I know this path and paradigm all too painfully well. I can remember literally watching myself as a spectator in the vicious binge-purge cycle. I can still taste the remnants of the self-righteousness and power I gained from rejecting, neglecting and tossing away anything more than the barest minimum. I was so desperate to get in my body, but I couldn’t stand being in there. So floating off I went. Running, dashing, frantic like a chicken with its head cut off as the saying goes.

I remember the look of awe, confusion and disgust some family members had when they would see me enact my most wretched food-related behaviors. It was as if they couldn’t even comprehend the possibility of rejecting food. For my family food was and is love. Food is passion, joy and wealth. For my grandparents food was also survival and aliveness. They were simply grateful to have it. I think I hurt my grandmother the most when I stopped eating her chicken. It was like I severed an umbilical chord. It was one of the more painful times between us. I also remember the absolute joy and pride in her voice when  years later I told her I was roasting a chicken. “Sure” she used to say in her very Polish accent. “You have to have a chicken”.

And of course when my family first immigrated to the United States after the Second World War, they moved to a chicken farm. You can understand my father’s horror when he discovered his pet chicken was on the table for dinner. That in itself is a tale for another dinner. Come to think of it, maybe that’s why he buys his from the store instead of making it himself.

I have done the ascetic thing with food. Now I am much more interested in the aesthetic thing. I am into the beauty, the lushness, the deliciousness, the bounty, and the enoughness of food.

I have learned more about the importance of tradition from studying yoga than I did from going to Jewish Day School or having a Bat Mitzvah. Look, I am not the best Jew in the lot. I don’t like synagogue very much and I don’t know prayers by heart. I make altars with “idols”. I believe in the many faces of the Goddess. I know mantras by heart. I did not have a traditional Jewish wedding. But then again, I do have a chicken recipe and I am not the best yogi in the lot either. So I continue to build my own traditions. My family was centered on food, and low and behold, despite my best attempts to outrun The Family, I too am centered on the traditional chicken. 

Bubby, never understood my fascination with eastern traditions and she told me once in regards to teaching yoga; “You teach people to bend in half and break themselves”. So I am sure that wherever she is in heaven she is kvelling. Because what she always understood was nourishment, tradition and love. Which actually is a really high yogic teaching. 

Livia ShapiroComment