“can bacon be yoga?” NY times looks at the politics of practice & food

The great yoga vs meat conversation is rearing up again – this time, in a New York Times dining section article called “When Chocolate and Chakras Collide.” It’s a look at the “yoga and foodies” trend currently sweeping through NY City studios, pushing boundaries (and buttons) by serving up meals with meat and wine after yoga class.  . It’s not a question of whether or not food belongs in the yoga studio, but whether bacon and a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon belong there, and it brings up lots of sensitive issues around yogic eating habits and ethics.

Calling his mission “yoga for the Everyman,” [yoga teacher] David Romanelli, 36, plays Grateful Dead songs during class, wears sweat pants rather than spandex, and has already experimented with offering chocolate truffles after chaturanga instruction. “It’s a way of getting people in the door,” he said in an interview. “The world is a better place if people do yoga. And if they come because chocolate or wine is involved, I’m fine with it.”

The past decade has produced thousands of new foodies and new yogis, all interested in healthier bodies, clearer consciences and a greener planet. Inevitably, the overlap between the people who love to eat and the people who love to do eagle pose has grown. In 2007, a combination yoga studio and fine dining restaurant, Ubuntu, opened in Napa, Calif.

Yoga retreat centers now offer gourmet cooking classes and wine tastings; New York yogis trade tips about which nearby ashrams (Anand) and studios (Jivamukti) serve the best muffins.

But not everyone agrees that the lusty enjoyment of food and wine is compatible with yogic enlightenment. Yoga purists say that many foods — like wine and meat — are still off limits. Others, like Mr. Romanelli, say that anything goes, as long as it tastes good. The debate is exposing rich ores of resentment in the yoga world. [NY Times]

Dayna Macy, a managing editor at Yoga Journal, claims that the ethics and politics of food “is the hottest of all hot-button issues in yoga” (and we all know there are a lot of hot-button issues in yoga!). And it’s been coming up in public conversations quite a bit lately (as food, in general, has ~ and yoga, for that matter). Sadie Nardini wrote a provocative piece in the HuffPo last summer which brought forth a very irreverent and questioning stance. Even a new blog, Meat and Yoga, explores the relationship between two apparently contrary acts.

I have to admit that I fall into the ‘bacon and wine camp’ of yoga. I was vegetarian for 15 years – I stopped eating meat way before I started practicing yoga – and only recently reintroduced meat back into my diet on recommendation from my naturopath (and I never did stop drinking wine).  My meat consumption is moderate, only 3 or 4 times a week, usually chicken or fish (or bacon, but that’s only on weekends ~ and ohman, am I ever happy to have bacon back in my life!) and I don’t eat red meat or processed meat.

It’s no wonder that I align myself with the “left-handed” path of Tantra, of all the different yoga traditions. What I find fascinating about this debate is that it’s such a collision between tradition and modernity. Where do you align yourself? Is enjoying a little meat and wine with compatible with yogic enlightenment? Have you ever felt judged for your eating habits? Let’s hear what you have to say!

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  1. Generally – The collision between tradition and modernity is an interesting point. It seems that honoring our food (no matter what it is) is an extension of honoring our bodies – and letting go of judgment should also apply to others’ choice of meal.

    Specificaly – I’m two years into a part-time yoga practice and enjoy that space between the post-practice and a meal, that feeling of being centered and calm and worked out, so I do think it would be really strange to sit right after class and have a meal, whether vegan or full pig.

    • Yes, I agree, Maggie! Not sure how long the post-yoga picnic trend will last. But it does bring up many interesting questions around food politics and personal choice.

  2. I think the issue here is boundaries, who gives them, if at all, when they will be given and based on which moral/s faith, logic?

  3. I think I’m a lot like you. I am not vegetarian but extremely close to it. I grew up in a Midwestern “meat and potatoes” type of household, but as an adult I’ve done the research on where my food comes from and have chosen differently. I do eat meat, though very little and it comes from a family member’s farm so I know the animal was treated respectfully.

    I find that if we listen to our bodies, it tells us what we need. I also find the more I do yoga, the more in tune with it and the more truth I find.

    I don’t think it matters really. For me, yoga in its true essence accepts all. There are A LOT of difference between the way a practice looks now and the way it looked in Patanjali’s day. Great post! Very thought provoking!

  4. This topic also occurs in the “ecosphere” quite a bit. So I get to think about it often…. (yay!). after reading “Omnivore’s Dilemma”, “Ecoholic”, and reading food blogs and watching Food Inc…. eating meat is becoming more and more difficult to justify consistently.
    That being said, I know that I wouldn’t be healthy if I didn’t eat meat. Mostly because I don’t eat soy products (I’m even less happy with the pesticides, GMO crops and monocultures of soy production) and I’m not a fan of traditional protein alternatives such as beans and their relatives.

    so- I’m trying to make healthy, environmentally friendly decisions. Like figuring out who my local meat farmers are (which is difficult in Halifax), eating less meat (have you heard of “meatless mondays”? a fantastic movement), and we rarely eat red meat.

    as for eating after yoga class, I like the idea of socializing and connecting with fellow yogis in our community. I feel that certain more “posh” studios, and well honestly, the majority of studios here in Halifax, aren’t very good at strengthening and creating a “yoga” community with their students. We practice alone, and we leave alone. Especially when there isn’t any formal or “real” reason to hang around afterwards other than to bug to the instructor about something.

    An event, or social experience after class would be really nice to connect with other yogis in the community without feeling weird or like a creepy stalker. Now, does that mean it has to be wine and chocolate?? i’m not so sure that I would agree- there are greener and more sustainable alternatives (such as local fruits and veggies, water served in glasses and maybe more seated areas).

    for myself, yoga automatically equates living a life that is kind to our planet. food plays into this.

    • thanks for bringing in the big picture here, ecoyogini! you’ve managed to portray how complicated food+yoga is, and how it’s all interconnected to eco-issues, and community. it’s so much more effective to be informed and wide-thinking, rather than dogmatic and judgemental.

  5. Oh good god…the old yoga vs. meat debate! As a non-vegetarian who’s nonetheless a lot more vegetarian than most of the yogis I know (don’t eat beef or pork, do eat poultry & fish)…I ain’t touchin’ it.

    One thing that strikes me, though, is that I know lots of yogis who eat at least some, if not all, animal products, lots who eat junk food, lots who drink booze, lots who drink coffee, a bunch who smoke pot, and at least one (a teacher, no less) who’s dropped acid in the past year…but none who smoke cigarettes…or, at least, they’re keepin’ awfully quiet. So, as yoga world taboos go, the biggest appears to be not meat but tobacco…

    • that’s an interesting observation, dr jay! i hope somebody out there starts a “yoga and smoking” blog. that would be hilarious.

      when i got serious about practicing yoga, i found that i had less desire for junk food, booze and drugs ~ but i continued to indulge, even though my body has become more sensitive. however, my body completely cannot tolerate cigarettes. i’ve never been a “smoker,” but i used to have the occasional cigarette (you know, “social smoker”… and i smoked when i drove… man did i love smoking and driving). but since i’ve had a serious yoga practice, the smell, taste, everything about cigarettes repulses me.

      anyway, there must be a clandestine clan of smoking yogis out there…

  6. Honestly, I think ahimsa is a personal thing. What you can live with. I am vegetarian but not the strictest of veggies. I used to be a very strict vegan, but it made me ill in the end and that is hardly ahimsa towards myself.

    So each to their own and everything in moderation.

    However, I am hugely careful about where I source my food and which shops I purchase from. I try to avoid unnecessary packaging and I buy seasonal and local as much as I can.

  7. Aside from a stint in southern California, where everyone has food issues, I haven’t felt judged in my food choices. I am probably more judgemental, having spent a lot time involved with locavore-type issues, but I try to keep those thoughts to myself. Nothing more annoying than getting nagged about bacon.

    In all of these tradition vs change (or what ever you want to call it) discussions–whether yoga or religion or music–I find it very peculiar that the pro-tradition crowd is very selective about what they espouse and what they ignore. I sort of feel like, if you are going to lecture about the purity of a practice than you ought to embrace every aspect or keep your mouth shut.

    There is certainly room for gray areas, but if people are being preachy they better be holier-than-the-rest-of-us.

    Plus, I’m not sure I trust some one who doesn’t have a soft spot for bacon…Eastern European roots showing themselves…

  8. I would recomend serving yogi tea (like chai with out the milk) after class. Not only is the aroma benifical for relaxation, the grounding effects of the herbs bring you back in the real world so you can function.
    tea also provides a chance to socialize and create community. I think it is important to connect to those you practice with. plus it is quick and in expensive, unlike a full course meal. Try it out and leave the bacon at home.

    fresh yogi tea
    ginger root
    cardamon
    cinnamon
    black pepper
    cloves (small amount can over power)
    black/rooibos/ green tea (optional)
    place in water, simmer, and enjoy

  9. I find that practicing yoga makes me a more conscious eater. I eat slower. I pay more attention to my food. I make better choices. But, I love, love, love food and eating and I could never give up something that could be yummy. And, I’m a Montana ranch girl, so not eating meat is not an option.

  10. I don’t consider myself a yogi, but I do enjoy yoga classes that are casual and social. That’s just my preference not necessarily right for everyone.

    So…yes, I’d love a glass of wine and a chocolate following a yoga class.

  11. This article suggests that the ‘dominant’ yoga culture is hardly watered-down ‘McYoga,’ but rather a community deeply committed to its values – both ancient and modern. That is inspiring, and confirms most of what I’ve seen in the yoga world. In Bikram studios too.

    At one level, there is nothing new in using aesthetics as a yoga, a means of uniting subject and object. This approach certainly informs tantra. It is even a way to look at austere practices like tratakam. At another level, something strikes me as inappropriate about working on exertion (abhyasa) and dispassion (vairagyam) while doing the napa wine circuit. You’ll forgive me if it seems like ‘fighting the fire while you’re feeding the flame.’

  12. Hi Roseanne: I created a trackback to my post on this article but don’t see it here. So, here’s a link:

    http://yogaspy.wordpress.com/2010/02/04/sense-sensuality-and-sensibility/.

    PS The other day I got a customer email from Be Present, that yoga apparel company based in Colorado. Anyway, guess who the model was… David Romanelli. Unfortunately I guess I’m contributing to his 15 minutes of fame by critiquing him…

  13. Great post. I’m with ya. Although I’m for the most part uninterested in meat and eat it pretty rarely… the “slow food” movement makes the most sense to me. And if something else makes sense to someone else… more power to them. Silly hot buttons. Isn’t that why we practice? To diminish the unpleasantness of hot buttons : ) And I LOVE dark choc. during an all day intensive, or a particularly long practice… it’s delicious and gives me a kick of guilt-free blood sugar when I need it.

    Cheers!

  14. To offer another perspective–I went vegan, not out of some idea of what I “should” be doing, but because my conscious wouldn’t let me rest until I did. It brought me a personal peace to transition. I don’t see the connection to something like smoking, since smoking is a personal decision and meat-eating is taking and controlling the bodies of others. I don’t tell others what to eat, but am happy to answer questions about my own diet. The idea of eating meat for enjoyment does make me sad, just as despoiling a forest for material goods makes me sad.

    Environmentally, avoiding meat is much more important than eating local (there was a scientific study on this recently). I do support organic and local as well, but try to do the best in the big picture. Health is a personal choice, but the ethical aspects of food are near and dear to my heart.

  15. I’m vegan (and a dedicated yogini) for ethical/political and not spiritual reasons so I cannot and will not debate ‘ahimsa’. I will however say that I believe my ‘suffering’ by not consuming the flesh and milks of sentient non-human animals could hardly compare to their suffering in factory farms and slaughterhouses.

  16. Enjoyed the article and the comments. I think that for most of us, what, where, how, when we eat food is based on deep emotions that most of us are not aware of. For me, even though I try to have a conscious awareness of my relationship with food, it often eludes me and I end up eating foods that comfort me, and not necessarily nourish me, but hey is that really horrible? If I eat this way all the time, I would say yes but i don’t. Since yoga has come more front and center in my life, I believe I eat with more awareness and hopefully enjoyment. I decline to venture into what is “proper yoga food” and hope that yogis everywhere relish every sip and bite and not judge others that do the same!

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