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Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, United States
Karen is a yogini, writer, student, teacher and meditator. She founded Garden Street School of Yoga in 2000. Karen lives with her husband Chris. They have two amazing sons, Eli and Leo (both of them young men).

Jan 25, 2009

Water, Milk and Food... Oh My!!

Staying at Treveni II I have learned a lot about water, milk and food in India. In the States as I was doing research prior to traveling, I found lesser and greater degrees of phobia – the “lions, tigers and bears” perspective. Once we got here we quickly felt a greater all seemed manageable, not frightening.
But we are only traveling whereas Ute and Volker live here and don't want to live out their lives drinking only water from plastic containers, and eating only food that has been cooked to death. Here's some of what they do to “Survive India”.

They filter all their water with a reverse osmosis system after which the water is exposed to silver anodyne to further assure the elimination of microbes and parasites. They use this treated water for cooking and teeth brushing and drinking and also for rinsing veggies that will be eaten uncooked. They have to constantly remind their little girls to not drink the water....(Can you imagine a 2 year old not drinking the water as she is playing in the sprinkler or wading pool? If you can – you have not been the parent of a two year old recently). So a lot is left to grace but they do the best they can to safeguard the children.
There is a myth that Indians can handle the parasites, etc. but actually Indians also do not want to drink untreated water. They get sick too – maybe not as fast or as bad as we do but still, they get sick. The problem is, their way of treatment is to boil their water. They have a government allotted quota of propane. When it's gone, the only way they can get more is to take their propane canister to the dispensary and then they have to wait 1 – 2 weeks for it to be refilled. So what can they do? They must either die of dehydration or risk drinking the water. I am sure that the mothers save aside good water – as best they can – for their children.

Milk is a big part of the diet here. At home, when I eat much dairy I start having way too much phlegm. If that keeps up I get sick.
I have tried to avoid dairy here and have not been at all successful . It is a BIG part of the diet. But oddly enough I have not been having trouble with it. The airborne gunk gives me trouble but I realized, after some trial and error, that the dairy really isn't bothering me. I was surprised. I asked Ute and Volker about it. Here's some information and perspective I gathered from them.

As most people know, the cows and bulls are held in reverence. Cows are seen as representing Radha – or Divine Feminine – and bulls are seen as representations of Shiva or, basically, God. One of the practices that comes out of this reverence is that cows are only milked as long as they have a calf. As soon as the calf stops nursing, the cows are not milked. Another practice is that cows are allowed to roam free and are treated well. They can lie down in the middle of a busy road and ALL the traffic – without exception – will either stop or go around. Finally, cows are fed rice bran which is extremely nutritious. In the states, big agribusiness has cows penned up, fed steroids and eternally milked. That milk is then homogenized which makes it less digestible and therefore more phlegm producing. According to Volker and Ute, so many people come to the ashram saying they can't handle dairy in the West but are doing fine with it here – and that this is due to the big difference in how the cows are treated and the milk is produced. This makes sense to me. I have decided to REALLY enjoy Chai (milk tea) and yogurt while I'm here. (They don't have cheese or at least it's rare). For about a minute I thought I'd have to convince Chris that we need to have a cow but then I thought about what it would take to keep that cow having a calf and what to do with the calves and the whole idea lost its appeal. I think.....Chris DOES like cows......

[Note: the down side of all this cow reverence is that, paradoxically, cows are treated poorly after they stop giving milk. But now there are “Old Cow Homes” funded by various sources and encouraged by various teachers and gurus. The Old Cows are put out to pasture and have a nice time of it in their old age.]

Ute asked me if I like to cook. Not pausing to think I said “sure”. And then she suggested I prepare the main meal of the day the next day. Oohhh.....oops.....I DO like to cook – I love to cook. But I have a slightly major insecurity about being able to cook a meal that people will like. There is a long history to this but just to let you know.....I am not the victim of fussy eaters. I actually EARNED the skepticism of the tastes buds nearest and dearest to me.

Add my culinary insecurity to the prospect of following ashram dietary guidelines at Treveni II AND the realities of India where you must attend to many details in order that the food you prepare will not kill or disable your eaters. I added that all up and started to look for excuses to get me out of preparing the meal. (“Excuse me, but I have to go worship something sacred so........ummm.......I guess that means I can't prepare the meal. Sorry!”)

Before I tell you the exciting drama of “the meal” I'll describe the dietary guidelines here. Treveni II – like other ashrams – is a center which revolves around a teacher and a body of teachings and is a place dedicated to study and practice. Part of the practice is mindful eating and “right diet”. The reasons for these dietary guidelines are not so much about being “health conscious” although, as you'll see when I describe the diet, it IS quite healthy. The guidelines are more about eating in a way that facilitates a clearer energetic connection with the sacred and cultivates, over time, a greater steadiness and capacity to sustain that connection regardless of external circumstance. Ultimately, the diet is meant to increase one's capacity to, not to serve serve God. But since you serve God by serving others, you could very well end up serving food from time to time.

The way we eat is seen as integrally related to our general level of consciousness and to our ability to sustain spiritual practice. That really raises the bar in terms of food and it's preparation. Coffee and donuts in the church basement just wouldn't make it over the bar here.

On to a brief synopsis – not the fine details – of the dietary guidelines: lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, grains, some nuts, minimal dairy, very occasional egg and fish and no meat. Things that are cooked are usually cooked in ghee (clarified butter).

There are also guidelines for how food is prepared. The cook should be in a peaceful state of being and really able to prepare the food with love and devotion. The idea here is that since everything is energy – some subtler and some denser – then the vibe of the cook is absolutely transmitted and absorbed by the food. I think most everybody knows this is true on a practical level. You eat a burrito prepared for you with love – by someone who loves you and is happy to be cooking for you – and you feel pretty good about it. You eat a burrito – same ingredients and everything – prepared for you by a pissed-off fast food worker, and you get gas.

OK – now on to the details about surviving food consumption in India. You don't want to eat raw veggies here unless you can peel them and even then it's dicey. Nobody can peel lettuce – so in order to have greens and salads, they grow their own at Treveni II. Even then, there is quite a process involved with making a salad. After you pick the lettuce you wash it 3 times; soak it in grapefruit seed extract to kill organisms like parasites, put an electric thing-a-majig on it to kill some more parasites. And only then is it ready to be salad. It's a complex and time consuming process and each food has some similar process attached. I don't think they would be able to continue with all that effort if they didn't also see it as service – a way to be in greater alignment with and service to God. It would be a whole lot easier to run out for a burrito.

OK – so I did not, after all, sneak off to worship something sacred. I bolstered my courage and prepared the requested meal. I made BURRITOS.

I worked in the kitchen with an Indian woman named Laksmi. (Can you believe it, you Yoga-Nerds? I was working in the kitchen with Laksmi.....Goddess of Beauty and Abundance......she who is a fountain of Shri -beauty and radiance. I was off to a good start).

Laksmi was there to help me with making chappattis – Indian flatbread - my idea of how to approximate tortillas.
Here was the menu:
Refried beans (I bought beans that looked like they might be pinto beans....or close enough)....and cooked them until very soft. We had the gas range but since the power was off for the day I needed to hand smash them. I sauteed a little garlic, cumin and coriander in ghee and put it together with the smashed beans.
Fresh tomato salsa (tomatoes, lime juice, a little olive oil, and a little garlic)
Guacomole – the avocados here are different – more watery – so I added a little olive oil and also put in minced garlic and lime juice.
Chopped green olives – bought these with the hope that they would be similar to home - they are pretty different – but they worked.
Cilantro Leaf
Chapatti to roll it all up in
Salad with fresh peppers

I have to say – it was a big hit. And the whole process worked like a charm. The time in the kitchen was so peaceful and focused. At home I'm always multi-tasking but here I was just preparing food. Everything came together in a easy rhythm, right on time, and there was EXACTLY the right amount of food. That especially makes me think I was in a sort of magical chamber......I almost always make too much. I can't honestly take credit since the whole situation was set up to support me but still I am very happy. And I've been asked to cook again – soon. Now I just need to make sure I have Laksmi in the kitchen with me. Maybe I just need to ALWAYS invite Laksmi into the kitchen with me.


  1. bautiful information Karen!! I have been thinking a lot about food and right eating, so this was right what I needed to think about.

    I really miss you Karen, but I love reading about your adventures and experiences in India. Sounds like the place you are at now is just amazing.

    I love you!