Gettin’ on the Chew-Chew Train

August 17th, 2009

In 1998, I took a trip to Peru.   In preparation for this trip, my boyfriend and cooking partner at the time, Howard, prepared intelligently; he took Spanish lessons and read guide books about the country.  Me, I just freaked out; having been macrobiotic in a pretty clean way for 7 years, I was terrified that I would not be able to get the right foods.  And it wasn't just a control thing–I was afraid of feeling unwell with a radical change of gasoline and that seemed to defeat the whole purpose of travelling.  I knew that Peru was the home to quinoa and choclo (corn) but I also knew I could easily find myself diving headfirst into a picarone (donut) cart.  I was stuck between my desire to stay  healthy and an equally healthy desire to experience the world freely. 

I fretted and freaked until I struck a remarkable deal with myself.  This simple contract cast a blinding light on a chaotic, fearful situation: I could eat anything and everything I wanted in Peru, but I had to chew every single bite of it thoroughly.  Like, one hundred times.  EVERY single bite. 

Now that might sound insane, and maybe it was, but it was also one of the best decisions I have ever made.  Upon arriving in Peru, my mission began.  At first, it was embarrassing and a pain in the butt.  I explained myself by saying I had to chew really well because of some problem with my teeth.  Ahh, white lies–So helpful!  My body, used to having food-bricks launched into it, had to re-train itself to absorb liquid food, and my mouth–the lazy bastard–had to go to the gym.  I sat out entire conversations, or just participated between bites… but I tell ya, I really, really tasted that food.  And it was a smart decision because it took us a couple of days in Lima to get our bearings and find the one vegetarian restaurant in our guidebooks.  It quickly became clear that we weren't gonna find brown rice, let alone seaweed anytime soon.  In fact, I found the picarone cart on the second day and chewed the heck out of an amazing Peruvian donut!

We even took a trip to a tributary of the Amazon.  It required two days on a bus negotiating fatally skinny switchbacks, and then four days in canoe-ish type things, camping in the jungle.  I had NO control over the food… white pasta, Oreo cookies and tuna fish were staples.  I chewed and I chewed and I chewed.  Instead of experiencing headaches and depression and fatigue, I chuckled as the monkeys threw things at us from the tree tops.  I lay in my tent, eyes closed and listening to a mind-blowing symphony of buzzing insects in the jungle.  At night, I saw the phosphoresent glow of weird Amazonian bugs and plants on the river.  I may have been eating Oreos but I was totally awake and experiencing every single mind-blowing moment of my life.  

More benefits of chewing; sparkly eyes, great physical energy and co-ordination, a total in-the-moment absorbtion and enjoyment of people, places and things.  An overall good mood.  I started losing weight and my skin looked gorgeous.  Meanwhile, Howard–who was speaking great Spanish but wasn't chewing quite as religiously–would experience dips in energy, moodswings and all the infamous South American digestion problems.  I had none.  Honest to God, because I kept my contract with myself, it was one of the most seamless, enjoyable, and conscious experiences of my life.  All six weeks of it.  Chewing is amazing. 

So I'd like to start a week-long CHEW-A-THON  with all the readers of this blog.  I'd like to suggest that we chew each bite 50 to 100 times each.  Every bite.  For one week.  I think we will all be amazed.  You can post your experiences on my blog and I will write and tweet every day that week, supporting us all to experience what our lives are like, thoroughly chewed.  I will talk about the bio-mechanics of it, the spiritual dimension of it, and give practical tips, including a chewing video!!!!

The CHEW-A-THON begins on the Tuesday after Labor Day, September 8th and goes through September 14th.  And remember: You don't have to be macro to do this, so invite your friends of all culinary paths to try chewing on for size…

You might want to practice a little before then, sitting down, focusing and really masticating.  Keep the back of your mouth closed and DON'T SWALLOW until you've reached your 50, or your 100.  That's the key.  You can do it!  YAHOO!!!

9 Responses to “Gettin’ on the Chew-Chew Train”

  1. John Mooter says:

    Thanks for the reminder…I often “wolf” it down! Not good, even with high quality food.

  2. raquel says:

    I just picked up “Hip Chick’s guide to Macrobiotics” at my local used bookshop. I decided going “whole hog” wouldn’t work as well as sliding into macro nice & easy…the first step has been making a pot of trio grain (brown rice, wheat berries and barley.) What an amazing experience to actually chew each bite 50 times!!! A fabulous meditation! At first, 50 was difficult…I kept attempting to swallow after 5 or 8 chews. The sweet aftertaste that lingers in the mouth post meal is simply unexplainable and MUST be experienced! Count me in on your upcoming chew-a-thon!! Thanks for a great intro to macro…

  3. dominic kelly says:

    hey jessica!

    nice entry!
    i can really relate to the situation when you have to go somewhere and don’t have the food choices you would like to have! and this sometimes can make you craaaaazy…
    the chewing tip is really helpful, i will try it out and i’m up for the CHEW-A-THON !!

  4. John Mooter says:

    I feel less guilty now for my indisgressions while on the road. My main commitment is not to eat any animals or secretions…..but even a Taco Bell vegan burrito can be chewed well!

  5. neon says:

    For me, it was very interesting article in one way and very good reminder of chewing, but on the other side, I was a little surprised:

    Pardon me, but isn’t chewing 50 times the core basic of the macrobiotic? The macrobiotic can’t work properly without chewing! You were 7 years eating macrobiotic to realise in Peru that chewing is wonderful? Does it mean, you were not chewing very well before? The chewing is stressed in every macrobiotic book and I really see that as the basic principle.

    I think, the chewing is the most neglected part of macrobiotic. Unfortunately, probably the most important part of it. People are stressed by what they eat, but they don’t care about the chewing and the amount they eat. Quantity changes quality completely – Ohsawa’s words.

    Don’t make something spectacular from chewing. Don’t chew only 1 week, but rather make it something basic to your daily eating :)

  6. neon says:

    Btw, when traveling in any part of the world, it’s not a big problem to stay on the macrobiotic food principles. Just bring “travel gas/petrol cooker” and cook your own grains, kuskus, pasta, vegetable, miso soup. No big deal in taking one little pot and gas cooker and spending a little time cooking. You really can’t feel weel on white sugar candies, even if you bite them 1000 times.. in the long term (few days, weeks – depends how fir you are) you’ll start to have problems. But when you take this extreme foods after more years of macrobiotic diet, I am not surprised you were feeling very well at the start. I feel the same always, but the problem starts after more weeks (days) of eating them and then the cleaning process starts and can take more weeks also. It’s not good to experience this cleaning part while traveling :) Especially if you are in regions where serious illness can happen (malaria), you are weakening your body and making good ground for serious illness (virosa).

  7. neon says:

    But I really like this article, because it points out something that I experience with many macrobiotic friends myself – the fear of traveling. I like how you easy this situation. Just don’t fear and go, chew, cook your own, whatever, but enjoy the world, don’t be obsesed by what you eat so much (if you are not ill ofcourse).

  8. Susan says:

    I have started chewing again recently with the same remarkable results. I have been traveling a lot and haven’t always had access to the food I prefer to eat so I have decided to just chew the hell out of what I can get. Viola! How amazing!
    When I first discovered the Hip Chick’s Guide I learned about chewing and got really good at it. Even being really into it, I actually went to sleep a couple of times while I was chewing. I woke up later with the food still in my mouth and just commenced chewing again. Pretty unusual!
    Yes, I will chew with you next week! Thanks for the reminder and the opportunity!

  9. liana says:

    I want to, I want to, but the food slips down my throat effortlessly, with a Mind of it’s own…count me in! Im going to get it right.!

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