Today, I would like to talk to you about food and how I see it as a key compassion fatigue solution. (Sceptics, please read on – really, just a few more lines…).

Those of you who know me personally will already know that food is a very big part of my life: I own an embarrassingly large cookbook collection, I love to talk about, read about and plan meals. I carry peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in my briefcase “just in case” I need food asap (ok that’s partly because I’m hypoglycemic and I get very weird when my sugar levels crash but it’s also because I always need to know where my next meal is going to be).

My favourite thing to plan and think about in the food realm are simple everyday meals, not dinner parties (in fact, I cook the same thing every time I host a dinner, just so I don’t have to worry about things not turning out. I jokingly call it my “kraft dinner” meal although it’s actually quite a delicious meal of salmon with coriander and caper sauce, mushroom risotto and asparagus).

No, the meals I love to plan don’t have to be very complicated, in fact I tend to favour the simple and rustic vs the rich and fussy: homemade bread and soup, tomatoes and basil, fresh from the garden, tossed with extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar and baby mozzarella, grilled chicken rubbed with rosemary & garlic … plain fare with the best ingredients.

In fact, as a teenager, after letting go of the dream of becoming a journalist (as it didn’t turn out to be the idealistic job I had imagined…), I toyed with the idea of becoming a Chef. In hindsight, I am very glad that I did not in fact become a chef now that I know more about the gruelling pace they keep (read Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential if you’re curious). I did work briefly in a restaurant as a teen, which is a story that I tell in its entirety during my CF workshops as it caused my very first case of work-related burnout.

Before having kids, a typical Sunday in my household looked like this: Get up around 8:30am, read entire newspaper (which, when we lived in NYC and subscribed to the Sunday New York Times took about 6 hours! thank goodness we moved – think of the hours I’ve gained). Then I would make bread and soup and while soup was cooking and bread was rising, I would go for a long run. Then, I would come back from my run, bake the bread, read or nap while bread was baking, then eat soup and bread and feel completely blissed out.

Needless to say, having kids threw a rather major wrench in this idyllic routine, but I’m starting to get a few more hours back to myself on weekends, since children grow and time passes and all good things eventually return (I’m an optimist which is another great CF tool).

Ok, what is my point? My point is several-fold:

-One: food is important to self care. Good quality food, made either by yourself or by someone you trust and care (that could be your mom, your husband/wife/life partner, your local caterer or whoever else, I just happen to like cooking). Good quality food is essential to fueling your body as you work in this incredibly demanding field. I don’t know about you, but if I have a really challenging morning clinic, where I’m working with people who are really struggling with difficult painful stories, knowing that midway through my day there is an amazing sandwich made with foccacia bread from our local Italian deli makes a difference to me.

And when I sit down to eat that great sandwich I am doing several things:
1) I actually am taking lunch – how many helpers skip lunch altogether?
2) I am eating something healthy and nutritious
3) I am mindfully eating the sandwich, taking a few minutes to put everything aside and making it a meditative, quiet little buddhist sandwich.

The point being that I think that as helpers, we need to take stock of the ways in which we fuel ourselves and food is the first obvious area to investigate.

The second point is that eating well does not necessarily have to mean that you are letting go of health considerations. You have seen the soaring obesity rates in our society: It comes from eating on the run, skipping breakfast, grabbing a donut for lunch, pizza for dinner, eating without really processing that we are eating. Many helpers who attend my workshops confess that they often eat in the car, while driving, on their way from one client to another. If you would like to make some changes but aren’t sure where to start, take a look at Chatelaine magazine and Canadian Living’s websites. They both have a large collection of quick and healthy online recipes that can be done in 30 minutes or less. Have a look at the slow food movement (www.slowfood.com) for more information on eating well and staying healthy.

Thirdly, (hey this is my blog I can make as many points as I want, let’s see how many I end up with!), thirdly, eating well does not have to mean spending tons of time on food preparation. It does require some planning ahead however. This can be a quick affair: you surf the web sites I mention above, decide on four meals you and your family will have next week and make your grocery list. You can even double up and eat the same supper every other day. This can be done in 10 minutes or less.

Fourthly, eating well saves money!

By the way, if you’re curious, my favourite cookbooks are:
-Anything at all by Nigel Lawson (a male British chef – not the gorgeous, voluptuous Nigella of the same name although her cookbooks are pretty good too, and she’s not hard on the eyes) – Nigel Lawson’s recipes are great and the food photography is out of this world
-Bonnie Stern’s Heart Smart cookbooks, I don’t know how she did it, but she manages to offer low fat recipes that taste phenomenal
-Delia Smith’s Summer Recipes for simple and easy meals when you are entertaining

Two interesting time saving cookbooks are:
1) Cook once a week, eat well every day: make-ahead meals that transform your suppertime circus into relaxing family time by Theresa Albert
2) “Frankly I’d rather be with the kids” from www.moretimemoms.com