Ayurveda Teaches us Oka Satmya – Foods We Have Grown Up With Are Most Nourishing: Miriam Kasin

Miriam Kasin’s childhood in Berkley, California was accompanied by the hoarse shriek of an electric saw biting into wood. Her father was a mechanical engineer and after work every evening and weekend would build a cabinetry for their home until bedtime. With music playing in the background.

The story of Miriam’s childhood is closely entwined to her journey with Transcendental Meditation and Ayurveda. The family’s love for music led to search for a higher path of consciousness.

She writes in her blog (www.miriamkasin.com) - “Music was everywhere in my young life. In school we sang patriotic hymns in class and jump rope songs at recess. Listener supported KPFA radio, to which my parents’ dial was turned, played classical music. A wealth of folk music from around the world and country blues were featured at the annual Berkeley Folk Festival on the university campus. In that venue, the performers were warm and approachable. It was a world filled with songs and melodies.”

It was a time when American society started searching for elusive happiness. She says that "virtually every major happening, demonstration and protest in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1960s saw me front and center. I inhaled my share of tear gas at Vietnam protests and the People’s Park demonstrations. A little too much was going on for peace of mind."

She adds, “Many musicians danced down the razor’s edge towards enlightenment, renouncing drugs for a safer, more permanent and much higher high. Many among us gathered up our ideals in our old knapsacks and followed. New religions emerged: a church was dedicated to John Coltrane and Bob Marley became a venerated figurehead of Rastafarianism. Also, many renounced traditional religions as being stale and corrupt, and sought spiritual practices outside of religion. It was through the songs and statements of these artists that I became aware that higher states of consciousness existed that you could reach without drugs.”

When the Beatles sang Jai Guru Deva in “The Long and Winding Road,” she wanted to know what it meant.  She writes “I suspected that it had something to do with their involvement with TM. It turned out to mean “glory to the teacher,” and was sung to honor the teacher of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, founder of the Transcendental Meditation movement.’

In her teens, Miriam had tried Kundalini Yoga, Zazen and learned to read Tarot Cards and also took up meditation classes.  Miriam has been a teacher of TM since  1973. She writes, “I have taught in many places in the U.S., and in the Philippines and Taiwan. I worked on Maharishi’s staff in Switzerland for three years, and worked at a large facility near Delhi, India for a year. Everywhere, from teaching illiterate rice farmers to professors and executives to students, everyone’s experiences are similar. Wherever we are and whatever we do, we have the same concerns about our lives, our health, our friends and families, and about the state of our surroundings, be they a tiny village or the world village. Virtually everyone I taught benefitted from the practice, which has made for a fulfilling life for me. Thank you Beatles, Beach Boys, Doors, Loading Zone and Donovan, from the bottom of my heart, for helping to show me my path.”

It was TM that turned her to Ayurveda. She tells CSP in an interview, “The founder of Transcendental Meditation, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, was helping revive many aspects of Vedic knowledge. He turned his attention to Ayurveda, and worked with some of the few existing traditional practitioners of Ayurveda to revive the knowledge that had been suppressed during the British rule. I was in India when he was meeting with the traditional vaidyas (Ayurvedic doctors) and was able to sit in on the sessions with them. I became fascinated, particularly with the diet and cooking, as I was a chef at the time. I had already had one cookbook published, The Age of Enlightenment Cookbook, and wanted to create a book with Ayurvedic principles and recipes. People were getting recommendations for diets from Ayurvedic practitioners, and didn’t know how to cook the food. I wanted to help.”

Miriam says that she has loved and studied India since she was young. “I studied Sanskrit in college. I love to be in India and feel very at home there. Traditional Indian food is more universally prepared according to Ayurvedic principals than other cuisines.” In her email she says  she been to Bangalore, “back before it became a tech hub with large buildings. It was mostly low bungalows and gardens. I loved it." She got married in a temple in a little village about 80 km east of Bangalore.

For over two decades, Miriam Kasin Hospodar traveled between three continents, gathering recipes inspired by the age-old wisdom of Ayurveda. Her book Heaven’s Banquet is the result of her culinary journey, a  sourcebook of healthful and delicious vegetarian cooking. In more than 700 recipes and variations, Heaven’s Banquet draws from a rich palette of international cuisines and shows how to match your diet to you mind-body type for maximum health and well-being.

Miriam’s website says that she has used recipes that have been tested in places ranging from a “five-star Swiss hotel to a charcoal-filled pit in the Philippines, Hospodar brings us such exotic dishes as Thai Corn Fritters, Asian-Cajun Eggplant Gumbo, Persian-Style Millet with Dried Cherries, Moussaka, Scottish Shortbread, West African Avocado Mousse, and Mocha-Spice Cake with Coffee Cream Frosting.”

A special feature of Heaven’s Banquet is its dessert section, which features egg-free cakes, cookies, and puddings. There are also special sections on how to lose weight and control sugar sensitivity, a detailed questionnaire to help you determine your mind-body type, and essential ingredients for a well-stocked Ayurvedic kitchen. “Heaven’s Banquet shows you how to use food to tap into your body’s intelligence to create lifelong health” says the website.’’

Asked if anyone can turn to Ayurveda following her book, she says: “Many people embrace Ayurvedic cooking who have not had the ability to see a vaidya and get diagnosed for specific imbalances. Ayurvedic cooking is healthy for everyone and there are many universal principles. In “Heaven’s Banquet,” I have a questionnaire that can help people determine their primary dosha, and they can tailor their diet accordingly. People can also eat Ayurvedically according to the seasons. So it is very easy to follow in a general way for overall health.”

Can the medical science embedded in food can be used to treat modern lifestyle diseases? Miriam says, “Certainly. It depends on a person’s dosha to determine the best diet for them. I have recipes that nourish all the doshas. Some foods are good for all three doshas, such as fennel, asparagus and split moong dal.”

Mariam says today many countries have Ayurvedic practitioners and clinics. “The United States, Germany and Holland are very active, but so are many other countries as well. For instance, there is a farm of ayurvedic herbs in Slovenia.”

Since Heaven’s Banquet looks at recipes from around the world, we ask Miriam to shed light on the influence that Ayurveda has had on food around the world. She says that they are original recipes, adapted to Ayurveda, “but I gleaned their basis from people from around the world and many cookbooks from other cultures.”

“Most cuisines have Ayurvedic aspects to them. Heaven’s Banquet has recipes from around the world. Freshly cooked, seasonal produce eaten in the most conducive environment (sitting down, no rushing, etc.) is nourishing everywhere. Also, there is a principle noted in the Ayurvedic text, Charaka Samhita” called “oka satmya.” That means foods that we have grown up with and are familiar with. They will be nourishing to us. For instance, in most of Asia, people eat rice and it is nourishing for them. In the Americas, people eat more corn, and it will be nourishing to them. In Italy, they eat wheat-based pasta. That doesn’t mean that you should only eat foods from your geographical area, but it does mean that there’s a nourishing effect from those familiar foods.”

“It is best to eat locally sourced food. We can’t always get everything locally, but what we can is more nourishing,” adds Miriam.

For her book she thought in terms of fresh produce, and recipes that were well combined, delicious and balancing. “I used many herbs and spices. I looked for recipes from around the world and adapted them to a vegetarian Ayurvedic diet. I wanted to represent many cultures and show how that food could be prepared Ayurvedically.”

This includes “Eating according to the seasons. Winter and cold, windy weather is generally Vata. Spring and wet weather are Kapha. Hot, dry summer weather is generally Pitta. Eat the foods that “pacify” those doshas. Food that is freshly cooked is best — no leftovers. Eating is a tranquil environment, sitting down, having pleasant conversation when eating with others, having gratitude for one’s food, praising the cook, are all Ayurvedic principals. Eating many types of food, not just one or two ingredients, is balancing on the overall. Making food flavorful with herbs and spices is balancing.’