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Conscious Food

Tenzo note #2: the habitat of billions of beings

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.

We do not always realize how much our life is in danger and how much we are saved daily by our body. Several times a day, the greatest battles of the universe are played out inside our body. Hundreds of thousands of living beings are killed so that billions of others survive and maintain the mysterious balance that makes us a living being.

From the stars, our earth appears as an entity in its own right living among its fellow creatures in the solar system. From the earth, each human being is also a full-fledged being living among his fellow human beings in society and in nature. And from the human, each bacterium lives in the middle of its colleagues, in the microbiome (place of the intestinal flora).

It is on average 100 000 billion living beings that live in us, divided into a hundred species accompanied by yeasts and some viruses and it is on average 600 000 of them that can make us sink. Their world can be a world of wars or a space of peace.

Contemplating our body as the habitat of billions of beings is an opportunity to touch our deepest identity

In his 2018 manifesto, The Dalai Lama invites us to universal responsibility (New Reality by Sofia Stril-Rever, the age of universal responsibility): that which passes through the realization that all sentient beings are interdependent and that taking care of our environment and of others is taking care of ourselves. We can also address in our lives the “microversal” responsibility, the one that allows us to take care of ourselves through our food and to take care of the world.

In his book “Taking care of your intestine, the Japanese method to open the pathways of intuition, recover vital energy and reconnect with the deepest self”, Professor Naganuma dares to bring together gastroenterology and spirituality. He explains to us how much our emotional balance depends on our intestines and with it our capacity to feel the world. All we have to do, according to him, is to take care of our bacteria so that it can take care of us.

So isn’t it wonderful news when we think we are cooking for ourselves alone that we are in fact responsible for a dinner party of 100,000 billion beings?

To live well is to feed all our others well in order to finally be oneself and become the only ferment of the world

The masters often disguise themselves and it is in the form of a punchy grandmother that I discovered the deep meaning of the ancestral culture of lacto-fermentation in Japan. I was invited by Takahashi san, a lay teacher of shojin ryori, to one of his conferences on traditional Japanese food (washoku) and I was not disappointed!

Her teaching was as sharp as a sushi knife and she started her course by going into the heart of the matter:

“recipes in cooking are death! It is because we are gathered today all together, in this unique configuration, in this common movement initiated by the ancestors that knowledge will be transmitted. It is our fingers and our heart that will have to write the recipe in our body and not some ingredients on a paper, so please do not take any note, I will not tolerate it!”

Then, happy with her effect and with a big smile, she started to talk about her passion: salt which, as for all Japanese people (until this generation), has always been considered as essential to food. The salt, friend of the living, as much present in our bodies as in the oceans and which by its symbiotic capacity makes the lacto-fermented ingredients more alive (increases the production of nutrients up to 200 percent) but also more resilient (unrefrigerated conservation). And it is certainly because the Japanese have been eating fermented food for centuries that this particular taste has become part of their bodies (they have a real appetite for it) but also in their way of thinking: life is movement, a process in constant transformation.

Impermanence is lived, cooked and tasted here

Lacto-fermentation is much more than a dietary contribution, it is a physical awareness of the life which crosses us and it is also a way: that of food. We are an organism in constant transformation, in constant fermentation, unique in its balance and imbalance. Just like us, bacteria evolve in the interdependence of contingencies. Lacto-fermentation is also a complementary relationship because if they feed us they also need us to develop in the best possible way. The koji (rice ferment necessary for miso) is watched over like a baby in an incubator for a week by attentive producers who bottle it every 3 hours with humidity or heat. From this relationship with the smallest, a humility is discovered, as well as the grace of the living.

To cultivate one’s own food to become the food that is passed on and to let oneself be continually fermented by life while becoming the ferment of the world… isn’t this the formidable proposal that life offers us?


About Valerie

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

Valérie offers retreats and workshops at the Praxis Hub in Bergerac. Next: February 5 to 12, 2023 (miso retreat and conscious food for community workshop). You can also find her blog: The benevolent kitchen.