A healthy diet is the foundation to a healthy body. But with as many choices as our affluent culture offers, how does one know which foods are the right ones to eat? The runaway statistics on the incidence of eating disorders, adult onset diabetes and rising obesity bears out that we are a population in need of a revolution in dietary education. People need help to find their way back to a simple, nutritious diet that gives them a sense of well-being and health.
Since 1981, our culinary and nutrition specialists have immersed themselves in the study of food and the mealtime customs of cultures from around the world. We’ve searched for the world’s healthiest and longest living people and sought the factors contributing to their good lives. The flavor principles from their diets, diets that have been evolving for millennia, have been distilled. From these findings we have created numerous nourishing recipes and a full set of enriching mealtime traditions and practices.
Common to these exemplary cultures is selecting the food for their meals from what can be grown locally. We follow this tradition as much as possible. We work closely with our growers to plan the garden and fields so fresh organic produce is available to fit the dishes of the season. After the growing season ends, the diet at the Retreat is designed to rely primarily on the foods put away in storage.
Another common denominator amongst the world’s most healthy peoples is constancy and moderateness. They eat at the same times daily and they do not eat more than their bodies need. Taking these concepts one step further, we recommend measuring the amount of food an individual needs, then eating that amount at every meal-no more, no less. Based on one’s weight, metabolism and other pertinent needs, we can assess one’s portion, measured in cups. All recipes have numeric factors for each ingredient that are multiplied by a person’s portion. This virtually eliminates any waste by knowing in advance exactly how much food to cook. Plus it makes the amount of food required for cooking for large groups predictable. It also helps ensure that the quality of each meal is consistent, time after time. Constancy in the rate of food one intakes decreases the stress on the body. Being on a regular rhythm with eating puts the body’s functions on a routine schedule that increases efficiency and relaxation. We define this principle as rate and rhythm.
Precise shapes and sizes for each ingredient are also an important part of every recipe. This assiduous attention to detail not only improves the quality of each bite, it teaches the cooks quantitative and qualitative exactitude. A meal will taste qualitatively better that has been prepared by cooks whose full concentration and presence has gone into every chop, slice and stir. The result is noticeable. A dish where all the potatoes are the same shape and size and each sliced carrot looks like every other, leaves no doubt that a careful, attentive hand was holding the knife.
But mealtime is not just about food, it’s about nourishment and receptivity. It is about learning to take in all that’s around us: people, the environment, our experience. To help cultivate sensitivity to qualities other than just the tastes in food we have adopted particular traditions. By creating the right atmosphere with artful centerpieces, stopping and getting settled down for a number of minutes in silence before eating, and using the time with others to humanly share the simple things in our lives, we can feel wholly nourished and fulfilled.
This practice of using mealtime to nourish all the parts of us-physical, mental, emotional and spiritual—is the basis of conscious eating. Through conscious eating practices, it’s possible to be fully satisfied with less.
Over the years we have created diets for hundreds of individuals and various small groups. One diet was designed for an ultra-marathon running club whose members run a distance of thirty to sixty miles each week. Another was geared for long term backpacking trips in high altitude, alpine environments. A third diet was developed for an intentional community interested in a holistic natural diet that would promote their health and support the work they do on their inner development. Each diet comes with numeric factors for all the ingredients in each recipe and precise instructions on how to prepare each ingredient and the exact method for cooking them.
I have never eaten such delicious food, day after day, meal after meal. The love and care that went into growing and preparing the meal was evident in every bite. The thought and feeling that went into creating the atmosphere for each meal was another reminder that simple beauty and simple rituals are what make life truly rich.
As delicious and nourishing as every meal was the most memorable part of my stay was learning that the value of a meal is not just in what you eat but also how you eat. I learned simple ways to prepare myself before eating and how to be during the meal that enhanced my experience of eating and my ability to be nourished by the meal.
From my visit at The Retreat I realized that the experience of eating is emblematic of what so many of us need to do— to learn how to receive. The only way we can truly give of ourselves fully is to take in deeply all that life has to offer.
See also the Food Project.