When I grew up we had two spices on the table. Black and white, and we could put some of each on our meat and potatoes. Cuisine was not a word we used, and dinner was eaten with a certain nervous vigor. My older brother and I would ask to be excused from the table, after which we’d go and have fun.
In Canada in the 60’s and 70’s this relationship to food was probably the common experience. Reductionist, somewhat oppressive and not a lot of fun. What was fun was dessert and candy, highly refined mood-altering substances eaten sometimes in secret to avoid scolding. What we are taught when we are young makes an impression that is not easy to alter.
Eating food is communion with the universe. What we eat becomes us, sitting down to eat is a ritual action. In a country like India, spices and combinations of them are too numerous to count. The palate can become educated, and moods and emotions arise from the taste of food prepared with love, eaten with awareness and digested completely.
We were also taught a concept of heaven and hell, darkness and light, and how to suppress our appetites for more. When we can not suppress any longer, we indulge in sinful treats. This process too, is reductionist and not a lot of fun. It also creates a duality that is not present in reality, only created in the mind of the suppressed and then passed on to the next generation of living, eating beings.
This model of living does not serve our potential. There are millions of experiences between salt and pepper, right and wrong, meat and potatoes. To begin to experience more takes a certain courage and honesty in recognizing our current limited ability to taste difference and nuance created by suppression and limited experience.
Tantra’s many definitions included technique, synthesis, or to weave together. To take the dark and the light and weave them into a contrast, to engage the full spectrum of colour and create art within life, cuisine out of food, sacredness out of empty ritual. To do this, one has to reach for an unfamiliar spice, experiment with it and see how it tastes and digests.