Feast or Fast by Elizabeth Brown, MS, RD

Soup is good for the soul

Long before the British settled in America, Native American Indians invoked this annual feast we call Thanksgiving as a way to celebrate the harvest and give thanks for a successful bounty of crops. Yet somehow we have turned it into a feast without an actual harvest for which to be thankful, at least not for most of us.

For most Americans, food is an abundant luxury we often take for granted. We have so much food available at any time that we never have to eat the same thing twice. We can even get thousands of calories for merely hundreds of pennies.

There are many ways to show gratitude for the harvest even if you have not grown your own. Buy fresh local produce at the farmer’s market. Say “Thank you” to the farmers who supply your nutritious nibbles. Perhaps even give them a hug or at least make a purchase. Make this a habit which will benefit both you and the farmer.

Some other ways to give thanks for an abundance of food is to fast. Especially after a day or two of feasting, a mild fast can give you a break from the kitchen and offer your belly a break as well.

You could use the money you save on food that day to buy food for those less fortunate.

Although an absolute fast is not recommended for any extended period of time, there are ways to “fast” and still meet your needs for nutrients, warmth, comfort, purification and spirituality.

The season might dictate which type of fast you choose. For example, you may choose to “spring clean” your body in preparation for the warm days of summer. Therefore, liquid or raw food fasts would be ideal. Because we are heading into winter, warm foods would be a better way to prepare the body for the stillness of winter.

Follow the example of nature. During fall, everything in nature contracts and moves its essence inward and downward. Leaves and fruit fall, seeds dry and the sap of trees goes into the roots.

Fall is indeed the season of harvest, a time to pull inward and gather together on all levels, a time to store fuel. It is the time to regroup and reorganize from the more scattered patterns of summer. To stimulate these actions, choose sour foods such as pickles, olives, sauerkraut, lemons, limes, grapefruit and sour apples.

Winter is a time for reflection, introspection and contraction.

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the ability to listen clearly is heightened in the cold, silent months. Growing up in Pennsylvania, I can attest that the winter was a very reflective time period especially while walking on newly fallen snow when the air was crisp and the earth seemed pure.

TCM also follows that the kidneys are the “opening to the ears” and the kidneys are most affected by the winter months. Therefore, having strong, vital kidneys is essential throughout the winter months. The person with healthy kidneys is active yet calm, courageous but gentle, accomplishes a great deal without stress, and balances assertive action with nurture. I call this listening to your body.

As winter approaches, add bitter and salty foods. These foods emphasize the “storage-oriented” season, a time to rest, meditate and store physical energy.

Bitter foods include watercress, endive, escarole, turnip, celery, asparagus, alfalfa, rye, oats, quinoa and amaranth whereas some healthful salty food options are miso, soy sauce or tamari, seaweeds and sea salt.

It may not seem that a fast is appropriate since we are supposed to take this time to store physical energy. However, fasting comes in many forms, even inasmuch as simplifying the diet. A cooked food “fast” for fall and winter may consist of steamed leafy greens and root vegetables with grains such as brown rice or quinoa and legumes such as mung beans.

A hearty soup signifies warmth, comfort and contemplation—the perfect food to stimulate rest and reflection in the coming months.

Hearty Miso Soup

8 cups water
4 mushrooms
, fresh or dried (chopped)
2 pieces wakame seaweed (rehydrated and chopped)
1/2 head napa cabbage or green cabbage (cut into 1/2 inch strips)
2 stalks celery (chopped crosswise)
2 carrots (cut into half moons)
1 turnip, small cubed
1/2 yellow onion (cut into quarters and chopped crosswise)
White or yellow miso, added just before serving

Place wakame and mushrooms in water to rehydrate, then chop. Use the soaking liquid as part of your eight cups of water. Pour into a large pot. Add mushrooms, wakame, cabbage, celery, carrots, turnip and onions. Simmer for 20 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Add one teaspoon of miso to each bowl of soup just before serving in order to preserve the biological activity of the cultures in this fermented paste.