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Eat Here, Get God.

by Carole SchorPhotograph by Jensen Hande

The times and places where we eat take on a whole new meaning when we pause to look at them spiritually. The gathering of the family around the holiday table, eating and drinking and sharing love - this is spiritual. The toasting of newlyweds with champagne and cake on their wedding day - this is spiritual. Friends bringing casseroles to help the bereaved after a funeral - this is spiritual. The breaking of bread together in most every tradition is about connection as much as sustenance, yet in today's fast-paced life filled with fast food and hundreds of thousands of restaurants, we tend to forego or forget these deeper, more satisfying aspects of eating. But we don't have to. A whole new genre of restaurants has popped up across the country - restaurants that reawaken and expand our deep connection to food. By consciously stepping out of our own traditions, we are reminded of the greater place in which food lives, the greater meaning of the meal, and maybe even the Greater Power of the Divine.

At Annam Brahma Restaurant in New York City (annambrahma.com), Jyoti Bihanga (jyotibihanga.com) in San Diego, and Silence-Heart-Nest (silenceheartnest.com) in Seattle, anyone can eat according to the teaching of the Indian guru Sri Chinmoy, who studied at Sri Aurobindo Ashram before coming to the United States in 1964. Guru Chinmoy believed that in order to live a better, more pure, and disciplined life, one should be a vegetarian. According to him, what one takes in as food, one becomes. When one eats meat, one takes on the restless, destructive consciousness of animals, whereas when one eats mild vegetarian fare, one's consciousness automatically becomes mild, soft, and sweet. In an atmosphere both uplifting and harmonious, the servers do their work joyfully, serving only the freshest of ingredients devotedly prepared with love.

At Govinda's Vegetarian restaurants around the country and around the world, saffron-robed Hare Krishna men and sari-clad women serve food at modest prices, designed to please even the most confirmed meat eater. Vegetarian so as not to kill, beautiful in its simplicity, tasty with love and devotion, all food made for Hindus must be prepared and offered by a devotee first to Krishna, satisfier of senses, according to the methods prescribed in the most ancient of all Hindu texts, the Vedas and the Upanishads. The diner at a Krishna restaurant, lulled by the sounds of kirtan music (Sanskrit chanting) and the smells of incense, is hard pressed not to drop into a meditative state of digestion. Govinda's in Los Angeles (govindasla.com) is just one example of the hundreds of Govinda's or Gopal's around the world, from Tucson and Denver to Brisbane and Dublin.

CafE Emunah in Fort Lauderdale describes itself as "the first-ever Kabbalistic lifestyle lounge and tea bar," offering not only fresh, organic fusion food and exotic teas, but also weekly Kabbalah and Jewish mysticism classes, painting, and meditation workshops. The setting is Zen-like, and there's a small library of Kabbalah and spiritual books available to read while dining. Soft jazz plays in the background, and diners feast on sushi and organic greens first blessed by the neighborhood rabbi. (myemunah.com)

At Annie's Fresh Fish & Baked Goods Restaurant in Florida, the menu offers not only soul food but also scriptural passages that feed your soul while you eat your "working man's" island soup and sweet potato fries. In Charleston, South Carolina (heart of the Deep South where slavery flourished and former slaves settled), at Ledy's Soul food & Seafood, Ms. Ledy and her children serve up grits and gravy and pork chops and beans to the sounds of gospel music. Here, too, as at Annie's, Scriptures adorn the walls and signs exhorting "Patience" (good food takes time) and "Believe" (like Ms. Ledy, in a God that helps tough African-American businesswomen succeed) make eating a soulful experience.

(To find soul food in your area, go to soulfoodandsoutherncooking.com/soul-food-restaurant-reviews.html.)

In Orange Park, Florida, in the kitchen of the Loop Pizza Grill, Minister Pam Russell (see page 55), a graduate of Southern Illinois University and the University of Phoenix and a licensed minister in As You Are Ministries, Inc., serves up salad and sermons to her fellow employees. Min. Russell is one of almost a dozen chaplains employed by this 26-restaurant chain in the Southeast (looppizzagrill.com) to be a shoulder to lean on, a trusted listener, and a friend. The owner of the chain, Mike Schneider, feels that boosting the morale of his employees, whether they are Christian, as he is, or Jewish or Muslim or Hindu or even atheist, can only serve to improve his business, satisfy his customers, and maintain a happy, healthy, and devoted staff.

Perhaps nowhere else do spirituality and food come together more closely than at the Cafe Gratitude in the San Francisco Bay area (cafegratitude.com). With organic, locally grown food, the menu is a litany of affirmations that can be ordered by the customer - "I am Grateful" is a salad; guacamole becomes "I am Generous"; and "I am Passionate" is a pizza. When presenting the customer with food, the waitstaff confirms the affirmation by handing over the salad with the blessing "Yes, you are Grateful," or the pizza as "Yes, you are Passionate." The credo of the restaurant is "Our food and people are a celebration of our aliveness." The diner is invited to step inside and enjoy being someone who chooses loving her life, adoring herself, accepting the world, and being generous and grateful every day. Can there be a better, a more delicious, delectable, and therefore more spiritually satisfying path to God than this?

For health-based spiritual eating, the Kushi Institute (kushiinstitute.org) in Becket, Massachusetts, in the heart of the beautiful Berkshire Mountains, offers a macrobiotic diet based on the principles of yin-yang, Chinese meridians, and the arts of Oriental healing. Delicious meals are prepared from fresh, all-natural ingredients, including whole grains, beans, vegetables, sea vegetables, and fruits - ingredients designed to nourish the body in the most simple way, while detoxifying it of any impurities and cleansing away disease and dis-ease.

At the Seven Seas Chinese Restaurant in Rockville, Maryland (sevenseasrestaurant.com), eaters can enjoy delicious food while getting healthy using the principles of traditional Chinese medicine. The chef at the Seven Seas has prepared a specialty menu using ancient Chinese herbs, with dishes such as Chinese yam and wolfberry with white-meat chicken. According to this restaurant and traditional Chinese medicine, wolfberry "enhances the immune system function, improves eyesight, protects the liver, and boosts sperm production and contains antioxidant properties." Chinese yam is used to "treat weak digestion with fatigue and diarrhea, general weakness, frequent urination, decreased appetite, leukorrhagia (excessive vaginal discharge), premature ejaculation, symptoms associated with diabetes, and coughing."

To experience a truly Ayurvedic-based restaurant, one might to travel to Vancouver, BC, Canada, to Chai Restaurant (chaiateastiseast.com), where the trance-like dance music of the Persian sitar charges the air of this Middle Eastern tapestry-covered dining area. Lemongrass soup, Indian thalis, spicy lamb, and curried chicken grace the menu, designed by the owner of the nearby Ayurvedic medical clinic.

This list represents a tiny sampling of the wonderful places run by caring people who are dedicated to sharing their experience of the divine in the most delicious ways possible. We would like to expand the list for our website. If you have a restaurant to recommend, please let us know about it by emailing editors@SpiritualityHealth.com.

Carole Schor, MS Nutrition, has written freelance articles on motivation, wellness and nutrition for magazines and newspapers.
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Title Annotation:meals and spirituality
Author:Schor, Carole
Publication:Spirituality & Health Magazine
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2008
Words:1266
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