“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” So said Mark Twain about the benefits of travel, and as one of the most famous travelers in history he’s not one to question on the subject. Last year, I was bitten by the travel bug for the first time in my life, and I kicked off 2018 in a grand and brave way with a six-day yoga retreat in Costa Rica. The remote mountain lodge we stayed at, Rio Chirripo, is truly an oasis—everything from the rooms and the main lodge to the sprawling, expertly kept landscaping that mixed wild abundance with deliberate artistry inspires feelings of relaxation and health. My week there undid some major damage from mounting stress and fatigue, and I came back to a still-frigid New York City with renewed hope and a heart warm enough to get me through the rest of winter. An essential part of my healing at Rio Chirripo came from reestablishing synchronicity between my body and food, thanks to the deliciously fresh and flavorful all-vegan meals the small staff prepared for us each day. (Although they are used to using lots of fresh produce, this was their first all-vegan venture, and they passed with flying colors!) In the warm mountain air, after having practiced asana or hiked or just lounged about for a few hours in a hammock next to a roaring river, everything tasted more vibrant—more loved. Compared to the sad salads one gets at chain stores here, the greens we ate were tenderly grown and harvested and massaged, delicately and simply paired sliced fruits and add-ins. The bread was not a toxic, inflammation-inducing object of fear, but a warm and inviting offering that practically demanded a second (or third) slice, topped with homemade preserves of banana or orange or pineapple. Our group was continuously impressed by their application of local Costa Rican fare to pretty much every international cuisine we could think of: from Japanese (heart of palm sushi!) to Mediterranean, from French to Italian, and everything in between. Our final dinner at the ranch fell in the “New American” category, and we were all feeling quite sentimental about leaving each other and this idyllic place. The thing about going on yoga retreats with strangers is that no one is really a stranger: there’s a commonality of intention that means attendees will more likely than not get along just fine—more more than fine, like old friends. This had proven true among the seven of us, who’d shared over meals and on our daily hikes stories about our loves and frustrations with life, our philosophies on yoga asana and veganism, and most meaningfully for me conversations and tips for living a more sustainable life. A big contributor to the latter was the book that made it around a few of us during those days, Colin Beavan‘s No Impact Man—a chronicle of one man’s attempt to have zero net environmental impact for a year, while living in New York with a wife, young baby daughter, and dog. His foibles and insights felt like a huge lightbulb turning on in my brain and radiating out of my pores (yes, this was an inner-light bulb, because of course No Impact Man doesn’t use electricity). Not only were there others like me who were concerned with the state of the planet (and have been for many years), but my setting itself was tangible proof that living with less and doing less, being in closer harmony with the natural world, while also being more at the same time, was wholly possible.
Having this mental backdrop as we gathered around the table for our last meal, with a 5:30 AM departure for the airport awaiting us in a few hours, the first course served to us (there were always three!) made a particular impact on me. It thus seems natural that it was my first, and ironically easiest, step toward recreating the vacation mindset in an utterly different climate back home, as well as pressing on with the sustainability goals I’d set after reading Beavan’s book. With determination and focus (it was well below freezing) I navigated my Sunday farmer’s market and found bountiful, beautiful ingredients for this satisfying yet lightly flavored soup. Made hearty through creamy, comforting root veggies but without any creaming agents, it illustrates that foods just as they are can take on so many different textures and contexts as long as we keep our minds—and stomachs—open. Compared to the normal produce I buy, I was shocked while preparing this meal to see just how much dirt was in the crevices of my food, and though I did a good job rinsing was comforted to know that what I was putting in my body had been so close to the earth—of the earth—and thus I was, too. Adapting to seasonal and local eating is all about embracing this innate variability in all living beings—a mindset we’d do well to put into action on and off our plates and yoga mats, if we like Mark Twain aspire to abolish “prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness” wherever we are in the world.
Sustainable Leek and Potato Soup
- 4 cloves of garlic halved
- 1 Tbsp. olive oil
- 1 tsp. dry ginger
- 1 tsp. dry coriander
- 2 c. broccoli chopped (1 small crown)
- 3 c. small white potatoes cubed
- 6 c. leeks chopped, white parts only (save your greens!)
- 6 c. water
- 1/2 c. nutritional yeast
- 5 cups fresh spinach leaves
- Heat the oil in a large dutch oven or sauce pot over low heat. Add garlic, ginger, and coriander, stir to coat evenly, and let simmer until spices are fragrant and garlic has browned slightly, about 5 minutes.
- Add the broccoli and potatoes and stir to coat in spices and oil. Cook about 5 minutes over medium heat. Meanwhile, chop and thoroughly wash your leeks.
- Add leeks, water, and nutritional yeast. Stir. Bring water to a boil, then cover and simmer for 15 minutes until the potatoes are very soft.
- Remove cover and turn off heat. Let cool slightly and blend until smooth with an immersion blender, or cool to room temperature before transferring to a blender or food processor. If you'd like a thinner consistency, add some water here in 1/2-cup increments.
- Add spinach to blended soup and stir until wilted.