Well, it has definitely been awhile since I last posted…I have been on a journey with this food project that has taken me to the Republic of the Congo, New Orleans twice (I may be going back), several food parties in and around the SF bay area and most recently to Senegal from where I just returned less than 3 days ago. This last journey has been the most profound for me in so many ways but what I am clear about is this-
It is not only WHAT we eat but HOW we eat that will determine whether our food is making us healthy or sick…nourishing us or keeping us feeling empty. It doesn’t matter if I am eating a bowl of freshly cooked organic greens purchased from the local farmer’s market over a mound of organic Quinoa. If I am eating them while sitting at my computer, driving my car or being otherwise distracted as has become the norm in US culture, I am not eating well..I am not respecting my food nor my body and I will not- as they say in Wolof-
digest in peace.
I arrived in Dakar, Senegal early in the evening of December 16. My brother in law Demba met me at the airport and the first thing we did when we got back to the apartment in Yoff ( a neighborhood in Dakar) was sit down to a meal…we eat family style and with our hand…the right hand specifically. Demba is a Baye Fall- one of the mystics/mourids of the islamic faith. It is tradition that you eat with your right hand and handle your bathroom business with the left.
The whole family sat down together on the floor and we ate Chebujen- the national dish of Senegal which consists of fish (jen) potatoes, african yams, carrots, eggplant, tomatoes, onions, garlic and spices. It is a stew served over rice. Getting the technique of rolling the food in my hand before putting it in my mouth and not making a mess was a challenge!
There were six of us around that huge round platter- Demba, myself, Mame Marie, Fatima, Aminata and Mara- all eating quietly and being well fed. Mame Marie had been cooking the Chebujen as we walked into the house.
After dinner Demba and I went to the roof and he talked to me about how you eat in Senegal. Senegal is a predominately Muslim country and though all Muslims in Senegal don’t eat with their hand, it is very common in Baye Fall households.
Demba talked about how eating with your hand stimulates more efficient digestion. In the way that we know chewing stimulates the digestive juices, eating with your hand further increases that stimulation. It made so much sense. I found myself eating slower and much less than I usually do and I was so satisfied. Many times when I eat food that is so delicious (and that Chebujen was damn good!), I will eat even after I feel full. I did not have that desire in Senegal…not once in my whole trip…
I asked Demba if there was a prayer that was said before eating since I noticed him say something I didn’t understand but it was short and quick. He said that you say one thing before you eat-
bismiallah- by the grace of god
and at the end of a meal the person who prepared the meal says-
Narass ak jamm…Digest in peace…
This moved me to tears
and this was only day one.