The Book List: 5 Food Books To Feed Your Mind

Thursday, February 26, 2015 by Jessica Riley-Norton

Over the past 100 years, our diets have radically changed as Americans.  Our grandparents and great-grandparents bought food from small grocers, farms, and butchers.  Milk was delivered to the front door.  Meat and sugar were novelties.  Our parent’s generation was introduced to TV dinners, SPAM, and packaged foods.  Along the way, we all began drinking soda: corn syrup made pop cheaper and more available, so more was consumed.  As obesity, cancer, and diabetes rose, we began to pay attention to diet.  The food pyramid was illustrated on every cereal box, and science as well as nutritionists began to single out fat, then carbs, recommending a variety of supplements in pill form.  Major food companies responded with enriched and fortified foods adding fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

As a result, nutrition has become remarkably confusing. Recently, a government committee effectively overturned its decades’ long admonition against over-consumption of fat and cholesterol. This drew nothing less than an outcry from the confused public, doctors and health professionals. Every late December, the bookstores feature an endless sea of diet books, arguing for any combination of low-fat, low-carb, high-carb, low-sodium, low-sugar, low-calorie, no-counting-calorie diets imaginable. So who do we believe?

The following books intelligently inform, and sometimes invite the reader to fall in love with the sacred ceremony of eating food that nourishes the body.


The China Study– T. Colin Campbell, Thomas M. Campbell II

The China Study is the book based on the China-Cornell-Oxford Study findings conducted by the Chinese Academy of Preventitive Medicine, published in 2005. Over twenty years, the study followed counties in China where traditional diet was maintained, and other counties where Western diet was introduced.  The comprehensive study discovered a direct correlation between animal products and cancer, coronary heart disease, and diabetes.  The study further shows that genetic predisposition may or may not be expressed due to diet; that everything that the human body needs can be found in plants; that supplements are not as efficient as whole foods; and that disease can be slowed or possibly cured by a (plant based) diet.  That is just the tip of the iceberg. Some highlights can be viewed on the documentary Forks Over Knives, but this book is worth reading for its profound evidence.  Also, check out Whole Rethinking Nutrition, also by Dr. Campbell.


The Omnivore’s Delimma– Michael Pollan

Michael Pollan is no doubt one of the best known and most beloved food writers of our generation.  The Omnivore’s Dilemma investigates our relationship with food throughout recent history, and where we are now–at a cross roads of endless variety while considering ethical, environmental, and health implications.  Pollan makes a case for small farms, eating local, and above all, being conscious of where your food comes from.   This book is eloquent and engaging, and it just might make a foodie out of you.


Animal, Vegetable, Miracle– Barbara Kingsolver

Barbara Kingsolver, the novelist (The Poisonwood Bible, etc), moved her family from Tuscon, Arizona to Pennsylvania to live a sustainable life, eating only from their garden and buying food grown or raised from no farther than fifty miles away.  In Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Barbara takes us through the process of planting, growing, tending, harvesting and canning, in her engaging prose.  Her husband and daughter share stories, essays, and recipes, interjecting Kingsolver’s story with their own experience and information throughout the year.  The book examines how our food travels great distances, utilizing fuels and energy, as well as acknowledging responsible use of water and irrigation.  Throughout the book she expresses the labour of love that goes into a backyard vegetable garden.  Animal, Vegetable, Miracle will inspire you.  You might find yourself considering how difficult it may or may not be to live without bananas, pouring over seed magazines that feature heirloom varieties.


Crazy, Sexy Diet– Kris Carr

Kris Carr was diagnosed in her late twenties with stage IV, incurable cancer. Kris, like many twenty-somethings, was not living the ultimate healthy life, yet after she was diagnosed, she committed to her health and well-being.  Upon her grim diagnoses, she became a vegan, a yogi, and a certified nutritionist.  Ten plus years later, her cancer has not grown.  She is thriving with cancer, emphasizing a lifestyle that encompasses spiritual and physical practices with a plant-based diet as her touch-stone, and Crazy, Sexy Diet is the blueprint.  Not only does this book include fabulous recipes, it also encompasses lifestyle stories to nurture the mind, body, and soul.  Kris is uplifting, and speaks directly to your heart.


Botany of Desire– Michael Pollan

Another Michael Pollan book (can you tell I’m a fan?). Botany of Desire demonstrates an elegant and engaging history of the apple, the tulip, marijuana, and the potato.  He observes our relationship with each of the four, how we depend on them, and how they on us, how we have evolved because of them, and they because of us.  This book will cultivate a new appreciation for our natural world, and how we are interconnected in each other’s evolution.  Also, check out the PBS special.

Why Being Vulnerable Is A Good Thing

Wednesday, April 22, 2015 by Jessica Riley-Norton

My whole life I pictured being vulnerable as a horseshoe crab upside-down on the beach; exposed, defenseless and about to be the lunch of a seagull.

My whole life shifted when this perspective changed.  When I was able to find the value in being vulnerable, I learned how to truly love myself, and how to be myself.  I was also able to love others more deeply.  Up to this point, I believed in not showing weakness.  Should I show weakness, a predator may go in for the kill.  I had to look good; like I was keeping it all together.  As though I nipped all of my problems in the bud, and I was consistently thriving.  I pretended I had enough money, that I never made mistakes, that I knew what someone was talking about when I had no idea, and I let people cross boundaries with me, acting as though things didn’t bother me when they did.  I was constantly compromising myself.  I was proud.  I lived out of my ego.  My heart was a third-class citizen.

I acknowledged this one day at work, when the new girl–a vibrant, charismatic light of a person ten years younger than myself–told me she was in recovery and that she’d just served a few years in prison.  I was floored.  She was more comfortable in her skin than nearly anyone I had ever known.  I confided, “I am in recovery, but don’t tell anyone.  I don’t like people to know.  I tell everyone I am allergic to alcohol.”  To which she replied with, “Your secrets make you sick!”  I rolled my eyes at that old AA cliche.  “Shoot,” I thought.  I just told this girl that I am in recovery, and I don’t know that I can trust her with my secret.

I couldn’t trust her;  she told a co-worker, and then she told me she told her.  The strange thing was, I couldn’t muster up any “How could you?”‘s, because I was grateful.  The cat was out of the bag, and the truth set me free.  Now all the love I receive is love that I deserve, because they know who I really am.  I recognize that sharing myself, my passions, my struggles, and my love is what others identify with as well.  This is what makes groups such as AA so successful.  In a meeting someone shares sensitive material about themselves, and is met with accepting words and hugs.  This is true connection, and this is the antidote to the most gripping addictions and dire situations.  It is also a way to live a meaningful life.  By being vulnerable, I give myself and others permission to thrive.

The following are ways I allow myself to be vulnerable:

Identify Shame:  Brene Brown, the scientist of shame, says “Shame unravels connection.”  Sit in a quiet place, in a chair or on the floor.  Close your eyes, and follow your breath.  Think of a situation when you have felt ashamed.  Identify why you feel ashamed.  Ask yourself when you first experienced this shame, and why.  Identify where in your body you feel this shame.  Ask your shame how it has served you; what has it protected you from?  See how your shame has helped you in someways, seeking gratitude for this shame.  Ask the shame if you need it anymore.  See if your shame dissipates.

Listen:  We feel vulnerable by listening to sensitive stories.  We often want to have a solution for the person, to make it go away.  Being a good listener allows the person telling you this information to work out what they are feeling.  By being an active listener, you create a safe place for them to unload.  With kind acknowledgements and often a physical gesture, you show this person that they are worthy of love.  By showing others they are worthy of love no matter their story, you give yourself permission to love yourself more deeply.

How can I serve you?  Live from your heart, not your ego.  When being vulnerable, you are acting from a place of love.  You are not withholding your true-self, because you understand your value, and realize that you have something to offer, and you also know that we all do.  If you woke up this morning, you have something to offer the world today.  Being of service to others is a courageous act, because this is to overcome fear.  Being vulnerable is to not anticipate an outcome; it is to love, even though you might be rejected.  It is to be present with a loved one, even though they are dying.  It is to pursue your dreams, even though you might fail, to give without expecting to receive.  Being vulnerable is key when you decide to really live your life.

Honesty is the best policy:  Be clear in where you stand, where you’ve been, and where you are going, communicating without compromising your values.   Beyond this,  recognize your mistakes and apologize.  In Catholicism, the Sacrament of Reconciliation (confession) is where you profess your sins to a priest.  No one goes there with a hop in their step.  I don’t think that most Catholics make it a regular practice, but it is brilliant.  We are often weighed down by our own guilt, acting out upon it.  If we can be so vulnerable to confide in another person, this weight lifts.  I think some Catholics do, however, skip away from the confession booth.  Confiding in someone and acknowledging mistakes with apologies frees our hearts, as debilitating as it may be to the ego.  You may also be familiar with people in recovery making amends for this very same reason.  It is a miracle worker.  On the receiving end, forgiveness is much more quickly doled out to someone willing to honestly admit to where they went wrong.

Ask Questions:  Knowing that you don’t have the answers will save you from a whole bunch of suffering.  If you don’t know, then ask.  Ask questions on top of that.  The important thing is that you have questions; that you are engaged and curious.  This means your heart is open, and you are aware of the potential for a deep connection amongst others.  This connection is the very thing that makes life meaningful and rich.

Identify:  When others share with you something and you can identify, take advantage of this opportunity.  Identifying our under-lying human fabric is what connects us.  When you share something difficult, there is nothing more comforting than to find others that have been through the same.  It is even more comforting when you see that they are still ok.

Give it Away:  This is another AA slogan.  When you go through something, and make it to the other side, it is important to share this process.  It is to shine light on other’s dark places.  Choose the appropriate time and place; Facebook may not be the appropriate platform.  Making these connections should be intimate, such as a phone call.

I am who I am because of who we all are.

-Mother Teresa

People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway.

What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway.

The good you do today, will often be forgotten. Do good anyway.

Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.

In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.

-Mother Teresa



How to Meditate Tonglen

Tonglen is a Tibetan Buddhist meditation practice to cultivate compassion, altruism, and bravery. It also serves us by acknowledging our own fears and anger, dissolving judgements on ourselves and others.

So often we are met with terrible news: illnesses, earthquakes, death, and people doing cruel things to others. Even when these things are not happening to us, we feel a heart-wrenching empathetic love for those who are suffering. In Buddhism, this love is called bodhichitta. It is the unconditional, everlasting love that sits underneath it all. We often build walls around our hearts in order to not experience this sadness for others, and even for ourselves. These walls we build to protect our hearts is the very thing that disconnects us, imprisoning us in a selfish state of apathy. Further, these walls lead to misunderstanding others, causing illusions and confrontations.

The Buddhist antidote to this wall around the heart is tonglen meditation, known as sending and receiving. Tonglen is at first counterintuitive. Our instinct in life is to avoid suffering and seek pleasure and happiness. But in Tonglen, rather than seeking comfort, joy, and happiness, we breathe in the suffering of another being. On the out breath, we exhale love, light, courage and comfort, sending love to those in need.

This meditation is not meant to bum you out, but instead break your heart wide open. It is an opportunity to experience what our family members, neighbors, friends, and even enemies are enduring, making us more compassionate and connected, seeing beyond the ego and its judgments.

Tonglen also helps us overcome our constant fear of suffering, so that we may not live our lives guided by that fear, but by love. Bringing this compassion and courage into our hearts leads to conscious decisions with positive ripple effects. The Dalai Lama is said to practice Tonglen meditation daily.

This is concept is not unique to Buddhism:

The Prayer of Saint Francis

Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console,
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
It is in dying to self that we are born to eternal life

The Buddhist Tonglen meditation is broken up into four stages:

 1. Rest your mind on the bodhichitta state. Open up your heart in stillness.

2. Breathe in hot, dark, suffering. Experience the constriction of breath, fear or anger. On the exhale, breathe out light, refreshing, love. Stay with these sensations of hot/cool, dark/light, suffering/refreshing as you breathe in and out.

3. Think of the person or peoples that you would like to focus on. It can be someone whom you wish to help, or it may even be someone whom you consider an enemy. Focus on their suffering on each inhalation, and then send them love, comfort, and healing with each exhalation.

4. Incorporate more people in the same situation as the person you are meditating on. Think of all of the people that you do not know, suffering just the same. Breathe tonglen for them.

Commit to this meditation for a series of days, and see what shifts in you. Notice if you become more aware of and compassionate toward others. You may also discover a wealth of strength within, that you were unaware of before.  Yet, true to Buddhist thought, you have to try it for yourself.

Vegan Soup Recipes: Raw Corn Chowder


September is sort of a state of limbo. It is still Summer, yet popular culture advertises leaves changing color, sweaters, and jack-o-lanterns. Days are noticeably shorter, but still long. It is the month when schedules are restructured, but that wild Summer energy still exists. 


Rather than feeling depressed about Winter’s impending doom that the truly dependable Farmer’s Almanac again forecasts for the Northeast, I am soaking up the beauty that remains in the blue sky beyond the canopy of still-green trees. 

The absolutely wonderful thing about Winter? Eating. More specifically, eating homemade food. It tastes that much better after trekking through snow banks and scraping ice off of the windshield. Food is a splendid way to savor the moment, to experience the now. 

This recipe is for September; soup for a month in limbo. It is a chowder, but it’s cool. It is deeply satisfying, yet refreshing. Plus, it doesn’t require any heat, and so it is packed with ready nutrients to power your last days under the warm Sun. 

Raw Vegan Corn Chowder

By Jessica Riley-Norton

Prep Time: 02 hours and 05 minutes

Cook time: 

Total time: 02 hours and 05 minutes

Yield: 4 servings




  • 1 1/2 Cups Cashews
  • 3 Cups Almond Milk (unsweetened)
  • 4 Cups Corn, off the Cob
  • 2 Cloves Garlic
  • 1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
  • 1 Teaspoon, and more to taste Salt
  • 1 Teaspoon, and more to taste Pepper
  • 1/4 Cup Cilantro
  • 1 Avocado
  • 1/2 Teaspoon (Chopped fine for Pepper) Hot pepper or Pepper Oil



1. Soak the cashews in water for 2 hours. I like to save a step by putting the cashews in the blender, and covering with water. Consider submerging your blender blades in water, however.  
2. After two hours, drain the water. Add 3 cups of corn, the almond milk, garlic cloves, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Blend until smooth.  
3. Throw in the cilantro, and blend for another 20 seconds. 
4. Add the last cup of corn, stir, and serve in bowls. Finish with avocado slices, more cilantro, and hot peppers or pepper oil.