Lessons from Aya… Why I’m no longer vegetarian.

Yes, it’s true… My yoga and meditation retreats are fully vegetarian, but I am not. While the vast majority of my diet may be plant based, I have stopped using these labels to structure my own eating.

I have had a long relationship with vegetarianism. At 17, I stood in horror as an activist group played a slaughterhouse video in the lobby of a concert venue. It was effective. I didn’t eat a piece of meat for six months and the next time I did, I saw the video playing again in my mind’s eye. Over the next seven years, I was a committed vegetarian and even went back and forth with veganism… no meat, eggs, dairy, honey, gelatin, and more.

I didn’t particularly enjoy being vegetarian. While things have progressed over the last twenty years, back then I felt like a burdensome dinner guest and often only had one menu choice while dining. But I just couldn’t switch off the very visceral reaction that I would have at the thought of eating flesh.

Determined to eat meat again, I began with egg salad, then progressed to tuna salad. One Valentine’s Night Dinner, I shared a bottle of wine with my date and then enjoyed a few bites of his steak. After, that, I re-introduced meat in small amounts.

Within a couple of years, yoga began to take over my life. I learned about the Yamas & Niyamas (yoga’s moral code) and specifically “ahimsa”, or non-violence, the reason many yogi’s don’t consume meat. Once again, I was back to eating just veggies. However after a few Ayahuasca ceremonies last Fall, this part of my world-view shifted giving some relief to the constant questioning in my mind as to whether or not I should, ethically speaking, eat meat.

There’s a part in the book I’m working on where I talk about somatic lessons, and this is a perfect example. While surveying my surroundings in ceremony, I feel connected to all beings. There is a resonance throughout my physical body that might be loosely translated as “namaste”… the light within me sees and honors the light within you, but this isn’t “light within” this is light throughout. And it doesn’t just apply to humans – it applies to everyone. I’ve shared conscious space with dogs, horses, lizards, and with the trees. This is a profoundly real understanding of the pranic field that permeates all life… the kind of understanding that comes from bearing witness to something ineffable.

I could see the larger picture of nature, of life cycles, and of food chains – how it all fits together. I could see how we all have our place in the great cosmic order and that cycles of production and consumption are as sure as creation and destruction.

Our minds love to think their way out of natural choices and before our rational minds got involved – hunting and gathering was the way. I spent twenty years looking to doctrine and others’ opinions for help deciding what to eat. Now, I’m trying to just listen to my body. Veggies or meat… it’s all in the cycle of life.

I must eat to live and while I don’t have to eat meat to live, it does, on rare occasion, seem to be what this human body wants. When it does, I thank the creature for bringing me nourishment, the way I am continually grateful to Mother Earth for all the delicious fruits and vegetables she provides. In the end, we’ve all come from this earth, and to this earth we’ll return.

While I might consume a small amount of meat every couple of weeks or so when I’m craving it, I consider it a special occasion and usually eat that meal out. I prefer to cook vegetarian at home.

Most of my retreat guests are coming from the other side – a lifetime of omnivorous eating based in the standard American (processed) diet. Offering a whole foods vegetarian menu during my retreats introduces guests to a whole new way of eating that opens up possibilities for better balance in their existing diets by learning new ways to prepare fruits and veggies that are not only delicious but satiating.

Vegan & Gluten-free Yoga Retreat Menu

Last weekend I had a fully vegan & gluten-free yoga retreat. I am good to cook vegetarian meals all weekend with a fully-stocked kitchen and no recipes or planning, but with these extra dietary restrictions I had to do a little prep. I went to the grocery store to see what looked fresh and what was on sale then came home and put a menu together based on what I had. I typed it all up and printed it out so I could follow a plan and stay ahead of the retreat by always cooking a meal ahead… cooking lunch while they’re eating breakfast, making dinner while they’re eating lunch, and prepping ahead for breakfast while they enjoy their dinner. The menu did vary slightly as I saw that I had planned too many sides in a single meal or that I needed to use something up, etc. The menu included here is updated, however.

I post pictures a lot on Instagram and Facebook and friends are always asking for recipes. The following aren’t really recipes since I cook-by-feel, but I have included a mostly accurate picture of what’s included in most things. These meals are really like outlines that can be filled in with what’s available – use the herbs, veggies, fruit, beans, nuts, oils, spices – that you already have. You learn to cook by cooking. Delicious creations begin by experimenting. The keys to cooking for me are:

  • Everything is delicious (and easy) roasted
  • Almost always, add salt
  • It’s amazing what a quick squeeze of lemon juice will do for anything green
  • Meals should be colorful, filling, and have lots of fiber
  • Use your imagination to use up leftovers: rice from last night becomes rice pudding the next day, dressing becomes the base of a soup, beans become bean salad or soup or dip, old salad goes into kichari for a different flavor, left over veggies get chopped up and added to cabbage for a slaw…

Without further ado… 6 vegan, gluten-free meals served on this weekend’s retreat:

  1. Dinner

*Tacos (corn tortillas, Mexican spiced walnut meat, lettuce, pico de gallo, cashew cream, avocado, sriracha, cilantro, chive, avocado)
*Rice & Beans (pinto beans, garlic, olive oil, yellow onion, white rice, cumin, cayenne, salt, topped with jalapeno)
*Spinach Salad (spinach, tomato, sunflower seeds, roasted pepper, fresh mushrooms) topped with Green Goddess dressing (avocado, lemon juice, olive oil, apple cider vinegar, basil, cilantro, parsley, chive)
*Pico de gallo (tomato, onion, cilantro, salt, lime juice)
*Plantains roasted in coconut oil
*Tangerine Fizz (sparkling water, fresh-squeezed tangerine juice, a sprig of fresh mint, crushed ice, stirred)

2. Breakfast

*Turmeric & cinnamon steel cut oats with pan fried apples (with coconut oil, cinnamon & agave) + Almond Milk
*Fresh fruit salad (banana, apple, plum, grapes, raspberries, blackberries)
Rice cake with peanut butter, banana slices, raspberries, kiwi, chia seeds
*Ginger, lemon, agave tea
*Coffee & Tea + Almond Milk



3. Lunch

*Green Goddess Soup (spinach, zucchini, avocado, fresh herbs, chive, salt, pepper, yellow onion, garlic, the rest of the dressing from last night’s salad) topped with fried carrot bits
*Broccoli slaw (broccoli stems, carrot, cashews, red onion, olive oil, cilantro, lime juice, salt, pepper)
*Baked sweet potato loaded with wilted spinach, crispy spiced garbanzo beans, cashew cream
*Strawberry Juice
*Almond stuffed dates


4. Dinner (Definitely my favorite meal of the weekend)

*Slow roasted pineapple, onion, baby peppers, cabbage (all with olive oil and salt) topped with a ginger, peanut, tahini, lemon, garlic sauce (wow!)
*Mashed potato stuffed mushroom caps
*Aromatic green salad with lots of fresh herbs with tomato
*Quinoa (garlic, onion, salt, olive oil)
*Dark chocolate, ginger, and agave                                                    





5. Breakfast

*Kichari (lentils, rice, coconut oil, biryani masala, cumin seed, mustard seed – a complete protein!) with soaked nuts & dried fruit (chopped prune, raisin, almonds, peanuts, sunflower seeds). Hands-down one of my favorite meals, btw.
*Rice cake with avocado & tomato, salt
*Crispy fried potato carrot, onion, and garlic
*Blueberry banana shake
*Coffee & Tea, Almond Milk


6. Lunch

*Veggie chili (pintos, black beans, stewed tomatoes, cumin, sriracha, maple syrup) topped with avocado, cashew cream, and chive
*Left-over cold rice and beans turned into a salad with apple, red onion, basil, cilantro, salt, and black pepper
*Spinach wilted in the ginger tahini sauce from the night before, then tossed with lemon juice
*Tortilla chips & pico de gallo (from tacos the first night, though I did add to it)
*Left-over roasted pineapple
*Pink lemonade (crushed raspberries & blackberries, lemon juice, agave, water – all stirred and poured over ice)
*Almond joy bliss balls (coconut oil, cacao powder, chopped dates and almonds, coconut shreds – all combined and rolled into little balls with an extra roll in just coconut)… not pictured 🙁

And perhaps my favorite part of all of this was the sweet card these three ladies left for me…