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I’m thinking about food. This is nothing new. I have always spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about food. Historically, my food-centric thoughts include grocery shopping lists, menu planning for weekend meals or special occasions, inventing recipes for more delicious versions of various things, anticipating upcoming restaurant or vacation meals, and remembering especially scrumptious things I’ve eaten in the past.

I can admit that there is a part of me that is pretty food obsessed and I don’t believe I’m alone. Eating is a basic survival need and carries a heavy cultural weight. Many people have varying degrees of food-focused thoughts and feelings every day. Fortunately, I’ve mostly enjoyed my relationship to food. I love to cook and bake. Feeding people nourishing and delicious meals has been a source of great joy for my entire adult life. (Take my word on it; you want me at your pot luck!) And I have happily entertained myself for hours by reading cookbooks, watching food related video, and simply thinking about food in various ways.

But during this time of the coronavirus global pandemic, I’ve become aware of a painful shift in my thoughts and feeling about food. I know that there are large swaths of the population that live with food insecurity every day and that for many the fear is real, but for the first time in my life I’m feeling afraid that I will not have the food that I need. These fearful thoughts are profligate in my mind these days.

I know that this fear is not based in today’s reality for me. My larders are stocked. My freezer is full. I have more than I need and yet I can feel a panicked part of me that believes I can’t survive without everything I want. That part cannot seem to stop thinking about how to get continued access to fresh greens without going to a grocery store. These thoughts are often followed closely by a wave of shame. Shame that I, as a privileged, working, home-owning person with a fully stocked fridge and resources to purchase more, is feeling fear about not having enough food. I hope that by sharing my experience and what I’m learning about it, that I might help anyone who can relate.

Growing up, my mother’s day to day meal offerings were generally based on a combination of cost and calories. She was always on a diet so anything considered fattening was only for special occasions or company. Most name brand food items were considered too expensive so we either went without or ate the discounted brand. I was too regularly served food that was totally unappealing to me. Sadly, I spent many an hour at the kitchen table in front of a slice of dry meatloaf or a pile of canned peas until I cleaned my plate because, “There are starving children in China.”

But then there were holidays and company. My mother would cook and bake an incredible array of special treats for the extended family. I looked forward to potato latkes at Hanukkah and macaroons at Passover and a whole meal of my choice on my birthday. I watched her prepare fancy dinner parties for friends where she served spectacular food that was never offered to me but it piqued my interest in cooking. I went to the grocery store with the paycheck from my first job and bought fresh broccoli and ingredients to make cheese sauce and chocolate chip cookies.

When I began to cook and bake for myself, especially once I had children of my own, food became a point of connection between my mother and me. I came to understand she had her own obsessive thoughts about food and we bonded over menu planning and cooking magazines. For the rest of her life we spent many pleasant visits conversing about and sharing food. In her last years, as dementia made her world smaller and smaller, food was the only thing she could really talk about. A few days before she died she said, “You know I’m really sick when I’m not interested in food.”

My mother was born in 1933, the last year of the depression era. Her mother escaped the pogroms of Eastern Europe at the age of 13, traveling alone to the United States. My grandmother’s mother lived in fear and poverty in a Jewish Shtetl somewhere near the Russian border. Generations and generations of Jews, my ancestors, lived under varying degrees of oppression and it’s not a stretch to imagine that real food insecurity was a part of daily life.

I am coming to understand that the food insecurity that I am experiencing at this time is related to my childhood experiences around food and also a legacy burden that I carry from my mother. And her mother before her and likely every generation back to biblical times. There is no need for me to feel shame about it. In traumatic times, childhood and ancestral traumas are often re-stimulated.

And make no mistake, these are traumatic times. Even if you are currently safe and have resources, this is an unprecedented time in terms of dealing with such a huge, worldwide unknown. Now, more than ever, we are being called to self-compassion. We are being called to connect with and support each other. We are being called to explore our own inner landscapes and walk that ground with reverence.

Here is my fervent wish for us all: May all beings be safe; may all beings be healthy; may all beings have ease; may all beings have food.

COVID-IMAGE

There is so much coming at us about the novel Corona virus. There is important, well researched information and good best practices along with false news, opinions stated as facts, and advice of all kinds. In this digital age, where so much of all of it is in our faces whether we want it or not, I’d like to share something that can be truly helpful no matter where you are in the process of coming to terms with this current pandemic.

If I carry only one message, I want to encourage us all to be practicing compassion. We must practice because it is hard and we need to get better at it because it will help everyone, no matter what is happening in our lives or in the world today. We need to practice compassion for others, but just as importantly, compassion for ourselves.

The definition of compassion is to hold pain and suffering with loving kindness. Having to cancel your vacation or be deprived of attending events you were looking forward to is painful. Trying to help your kids deal with canceled sporting events, social gatherings, and school closings is painful. Forced or self-imposed social distancing creates suffering of various kinds for people of all ages. Losing income because businesses have to close down for a time surely creates suffering. And of course fear of any kind, especially fear of the unknown, can be incredibly painful.

This current situation is one where so much is unknown. New things are unfolding constantly and we are all required to adjust, day by day, to changing circumstances. Humans don’t do so well with fear of the unknown and we have many different coping strategies; ways to try to help ourselves feel safe. These can range from denial: “This is all nothing, no different from the flu and everyone is over reacting!” to the fear driven hoarding of everything that might be helpful to prevent or treat the virus. Sometimes it’s anger that helps manage our fears: “What’s wrong with those horrible people buying up all the toilet paper?”

These kinds of reactions are in response to the suffering; the pain of how the spread of this virus is, or might impact us. How can we hold our own and other people’s feelings and behaviors with kindness? When we get to the store and find that all the bleach, and Lysol, and toilet paper is sold out, can we notice our fear about the possibility of not having what we need? Can we notice how quickly that fear turns to anger at the people who over-bought, depriving us of a sense of safety? Can we hold ourselves with kindness in all our feelings? Of course we feel this way. Can we remember that the people who are cleaning out the shelves are also feeling fear? Probably the same fear we have?

This sense of common humanity is one of the most important elements in the practice of compassion. To remember that we’re all human with human responses and the human drive to try to feel safe. We reach for a feeling of safety in many different ways, but we’re all doing it all of the time. And we’re all suffering, especially now. How can we hold this suffering, this fear, this annoyance, this disappointment with kindness?

If you’re disappointed that your plans to travel or to go out with friends have been interrupted, can remember that there are thousands of other people with the same disappointment? Maybe you can connect on the phone, Face-time, or Skype. If you are losing income because of the outbreak, can you remember that the financial fallout of this pandemic will be shared by many others? Can you reach out to someone else in a similar boat and commiserate or get support? If you’re terrified that you are your loved ones will get sick and die can you remember how many people are afraid at this time? Maybe you can take a break from reading the news, scrolling Facebook, talking about the situation. Find something good to watch on Netflix or escape into a good book. If you are feeling annoyed and inconvenienced and think people are over-reacting, you are also not alone but can you recognize that many people are very scared and trying to make decisions for safety? Can you remember a time in your life when you were scared and then try to act in ways that would have helped you in your fear?

In our fast paced digital world many people are already struggling with varying levels of emotional and psychological challenges. The current push for social distancing, along with the financial pressures many are facing can greatly increase feelings of isolation which can lead to depression and even more anxiety. In these times it’s ever more important for all of us to be practicing compassion. How can you make space for whatever you’re feeling and be kind to yourself and others? How can you reach out and ask for support or offer support to someone you know is suffering? How can we use out technology to be closer to people as opposed to create further distancing?

I believe that how we respond to what is happening will have a larger, longer lasting effect on us all than the corona virus itself. Let’s respond to the suffering, other’s and our own, with loving kindness as much as we can and we’ll get through this time together.

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