Community Conscious Food

Tenzo note #1: hunger in community

In the zen community, the tenzo is the cook. Every month, Valerie Duvauchelle, our Bergerac Praxis Hub tenzo, shares her thoughts in the tenzo notes series.

It is not uncommon, especially when we are in a group, to see our hunger awaken. But is this sensation really the expression of a physiological need or is it the fear of lack waking up when we share our food in community?

The answer to this question does not exist; it depends on the body of each person, on his psychological construction crossed with social behaviors. In the absence of answering it, it seems to me nevertheless interesting, like an explorer, to go in search of the different layers which are hidden behind what seems a priori simple, to draw the invisible thread between what belongs to the personal and what belongs to the collective in the construction of our relationship to food, particularly hunger.

To do this, I would like to start simply from my experience: I have been cooking without animal products for groups for about fifteen years, following the model of the Zen temples based on the 3 bowls with measures per person corresponding to :

  • 50 to 60g of cereals
  • 40 to 50g of legumes (including tofu, soy protein, tempeh)
  • 180g of cooked vegetables
  • 130g of raw vegetables

In addition, we usually add cookies after lunch and a dessert cream or cooked fruit after dinner, and for breakfast, cereals such as porridge, vegetable milk, 45 g of nuts or seeds and 130 g of fresh fruit.

In my opinion, it is impossible, unless you have lumberjacks in the group, to be hungry with these quantities and yet it regularly happens that one or two people express a real feeling of hunger. But because I think that these hunger-related demands go beyond personal needs, I want to share with you my thoughts on the subject. They

are not scientific, on the contrary, they claim the total subjectivity of the possible reasons for hunger today in the West in the face of what I have observed during all these years.

Fear of missing out

It is possible that we confuse hunger with the fear of being hungry, in other words, what we take for hunger is in reality the fear of missing out and we create the psychological rather than physiological need to reassure ourselves by eating before being hungry.

We’ve forgotten the sensation of hunger

It is possible that we confuse the heaviness of digestion with satiety. Having forgotten the sensation of hunger in our privileged countries, we don’t know that feeling light before a meal is normal. We forget that the body needs to rest and that hunger signals that the body has had enough rest. Because hunger gives us a feeling of insecurity today we prefer the heaviness of a continuous digestion that exploits the body and fatigues us.

We are comfortable in our weakened state

Most of us are in continuous digestion which takes a lot of body process and prevents us to be in full energy. This heaviness of the body is connected to the heaviness of our mind and in some way could be comfortable as it weakens our potential full energy which is sometimes too strong to channel.

The impact of our socio-cultural reality

We are rarely aware of the impact of the socio-cultural reality (macro reality) on our personal needs (micro reality). Our food production system was built after the war with the objective of responding to famines but continued to produce according to the same objectives when the needs had disappeared. As a result, we remain conditioned by the fear of lack even when we overproduce. On a personal scale, this paradigm of lack is anchored in our relationship to food, where we disguised our fear in more and more ambitious personal needs.

This paradigm of fear of lack can put some people in a state of almost permanent vigilance with the stress of having to imperatively protect themselves from a future lack.

Food Dogmas

The appearance of food dogmas, “eating well”, has become for some a daily injunction creating guilt and great stress because eating well today means choosing a food theory often in opposition to another. It is also often the injunction not to deviate from it at the risk of losing one’s identity.

It is possible that the more we want to protect our identity, what we are and what we want to be as an individual, hunger will come to disturb the control of this identity.

Transition to a vegan diet

Finally, when one goes from a meat or dairy diet to a diet without animal products, or in the case of transitioning to the cuisine of benevolence (shojin) without garlic or onions, one loses the reference points that one associates with the feeling of satiety: the chewiness, the depth of taste, the intensity of the taste. Everything is different with a more neutral tone for the vegetable. In general, it takes a few days or even a week, depending on the person, for this density of taste to be recognized in the variety of flavors and textures, which is much wider than with animal products. (This is why a little bit of sweetness at the end of the meal normally helps to calm the lack of reference points.

Going from binary food (based on sweet and salty creating a constant appetite) to a wider range of flavors erasing this appetite, also erases the usual feeling of satiety that often comes from eating more than we need.

To conclude

The purpose of this list of possible reasons for our hunger today in the West is not to create new food injunctions but simply to make visible the way our needs are built and how they are correlated with our “feeling” of hunger rather than the “reality” of it.

The objective remains the same: to deconstruct our personal needs and to make visible a conditioning that prevents us from living fully, both personally and collectively. Conditioning will differ for each person and can’t be a universal reality; for some not having animal products could raise fear of lack while for some others it is a real medical need that should be respected.

Food, in my opinion, is the most direct expression of our collective trauma, therefore observing our relationship to food teaches us a lot while also liberating us.

Evolution, both pragmatically and spiritually, won’t be happening without facing the fear behind our food behaviours. In the Bergerac Praxis Hub, we take out relationship to food very seriously. During our residencies we find ways to answer its complexity and reconnect with the basic joy of it as a community.

To explore the topics in this essay further:

Check out Valerie’s website:

Learn about our Conscious Food Workshops:

About Valerie

Valerie Duvauchelle is a former tenzo in Soto Zen tradition and is currently a conscious food designer for evolutionary communities.