Argentina, the land of cattle ranches and parillas (steakhouses), and yet there I was at a Hare Krishna Eco Yoga Farm eating vegan pizza.
My foodie senses had certainly led me off the beaten path but, in a way, it was meant to be.
After experiencing a traumatic theft in Buenos Aires, during which my friend’s bag was stolen on our way to meet a walking tour, we needed to find a peaceful space to wait while Sandy’s temporary passport was being processed at the Canadian Embassy.
Travel tip: Never trust a man who says you’ve got gunk on your backpack and conveniently offers you a tissue for its removal. It’s just a distraction tactic to take your focus off of what’s really going on!
Away from the warm embrace of home, such street crime required a bit of chill time, and what better place to do that than one shared with monks, we thought.
Besides regularly meditating and practicing Bhakti Yoga, we volunteered in two areas of the farm dedicated to organic and sustainable food prep—the cocina and the bio-garden. As someone who appreciates all things food, it was a theme I couldn’t resist exploring as a way of getting to know the Hare Krishna culture.
The meat eater in me, the one who loves my mother’s homemade Polish beef cabbage rolls and goulash, couldn’t quite adopt their strict vegan diet in the long run, but I was able to pick up a key lesson that can be applied to anyone’s palate.
The dharma (principle) of self-control, also known as Tapas.
In almost every case, if I were to truly listen to my body more than my mind, I would realize I overeat most of the time and that I can be satisfied with less. Hare Krishnas practice modesty in all aspects of life, even at the dinner table. By keeping their diets lean, they’re able to focus more clearly on their spiritual journeys and their relationships with God.
It’s like striving for true shavasana (corpse pose) in Yoga if your stomach is grumbling from a large meal—your focus on meditation is intruded upon.
After volunteering in the garden all day weeding and churning soil, I’d be famished. Food was all I could think about.
Food would be my reward, I thought.
Unlike Hare Krishnas, I was putting my basic bodily needs before anything else, before gratitude towards God and Pachamama (Mother Earth), and before even checking in with myself.
Not a very smart thing if one wants to attain a higher sense of being.
Perhaps it is easier for Hare Krishnas, as their traditional shaved head is actually a display of total commitment towards the spiritual life. More pressure, you know?
The key, in fact, to mindful eating is to surround yourself with helpful reminders, your own version of a shaved head, so to speak.
Meals at the Yoga Farm would be taken communally on wooden tables in a simple-looking hut, but the atmosphere didn’t promote eating, at least not initially, but piety and an opportunity for togetherness with reminders everywhere about what’s most important. Religious music constantly played and literature on the Hare Krishna Movement would be available for everyone’s perusal. Getting to know your neighbour, participating in wholesome conversation, sharing the troubles and highlights of the day seemed more important.
When the food did—finally—come out, I was encouraged to show restraint by the fact that not many people were asking for second helpings. It just didn’t seem that important to them and I didn’t want to embarrass myself by being the only one.
Now I realize how “buffet” is such a gluttonous concept, and feel ashamed coming from a culture that glorifies abundance and the idea that more is better—including more food.
However, just because it’s there, doesn’t mean you should have it.
To my surprise, I found the vegan dishes to be enjoyable and creative. Since it was Argentina’s winter season, there was a lot of eggplant, beets, cabbage and lettuce to work with, but also tomatoes, flour and various herbs. Soups, salads, pizza and dumplings were regularly on the menu, and I got the chance to help prepare these nourishing dishes alongside the Hare Krishna women.
The foods had a pure and earthy quality about them, as they were straight from a garden that doesn’t use pesticides or any kind of GMO’s. I didn’t even mind a little dirt on my vegetables to be honest. Instead, old school techniques are used to scare away hungry herbivores, like plastic bags which make noise when they’re caught by the wind.
One of the monks who spoke English fluently and who seemed a little more personable in his T-shirt and jeans, rather than the traditional loose flowing garbs, compared modern society’s eating habits to the Rolling Stones lyrics “I can’t get no satisfaction.”
Our plates could be overflowing with the most beautiful cuisine, and yet we can still be left unsatisfied because of what’s going on in other aspects of our lives. This opens the door to overeating, not eating enough or consuming unhealthy foods.
Sadly there was a day when my friend Sandy and I had failed to see the light and tossed our practice of self-control out the window for some non-vegan treats. Upon our arrival at the Eco Yoga Farm, one of the monks had made the mistake of telling us that they neighboured a dairy farm, and that there was a tienda (store) about three kilometres away.
Knowing we had options made it so easy for us chocolate lovers to trudge deep countryside—it had poured torrential rain the night before—for a slice of heaven. Did I mention the numerous stray dogs that threateningly followed us part way and that seemed on the verge of attack?
To do anything well one must be mindful towards it—and all mindfulness is, is an honest and wholehearted focus on the task at hand. In his book Mindfulness is Better than Chocolate, David Michie says that by practicing mindfulness, the body can achieve anything.
“Mindfulness helps us gain control…”
You could say Hare Krishnas eat to live and don’t live to eat.
We definitely lived to eat when we spent our whole afternoon in search of delicious sweets. In retrospect, it didn’t matter to me so much that I broke my pact with veganism, but that I broke a pact with myself.
“When we can observe thoughts rather than automatically react to them, we start being able to manage what’s going on in our minds,” Mitchie writes. “We create space in which we’re free to choose how we respond—or not. Instead of being a victim of our thoughts, we become their observer.”
I know I have it in me to practice more willpower when it comes to appetizing food. We all do, whether it’s for religious reasons or healthy ones, and I think the trick to it is to keep reminding ourselves of our true goals and to respect the deal you made with yourself while you were in your higher state of consciousness.