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Food for the Soul: Chrysalis Institute’s new soul-feeding series

Can and should eating be a spiritual process? You bet your sweet peas.




Photo by: geek4rent

Rachel Douglas sits across from me at the JCC cafe. The Executive Director of the Chrysalis Institute is eating a bagel with cream cheese and lox and telling me about the Institute’s programming around food and spirituality. Over the next four months, the Chrysalis Institute will focus on the theme of “Nourishing Spirituality: Food, Body, and Soul,” the connection between the land, the food that comes from it, and the spirit.

The concept instantly draws me in, but what is the Chrysalis Institute? Douglas explains it’s, “a place to discover spirituality, free of the boundaries of any one faith, free of dogma.” Through journaling and movement exercises like yoga and nia, Douglas says, the programs at Chrysalis encourage people to find their own connections and “live their meaningful lives” because of it.

The 22-year-old non-profit, founded by Nancy Milner, is a resource for people who want to find meaning and spirituality beyond organized religion. Douglas has been the Executive Director for the last year. She says she plans to engage more community partners, like the Visual Arts Center, Ellwood Thompson’s, and Tricycle Gardens, in order to reach a wider audience with Chrysalis programming.

The first program in the Nourishing Spirituality series, ‘The Spirituality of Food: Eating as Spiritual Practice,’ Douglas explains, “will introduce folks to the idea of nourishing spirituality.” Facilitator Keya Williams will explore modern attitudes and behaviors around food and compare them to an examination of food throughout history. “The idea is to be more aware of the act of eating and what we’re putting into our bodies, to create a ritual and make it a more mindful act,” Douglas explains.

The programming continues with a traditional Chinese gongfu tea ceremony in March, led by tea master Mistie Roundtree of CaryTown Teas. Douglas says she encouraged Roundtree to choose a tea service that was “ceremony heavy” to really take time and slow down to contemplate the process itself–where the tea comes from and how it’s made.

There is an undeniable ritual in eating, and if ritual is a way of connecting to the spiritual side of everyday acts, then food and spirituality share an obvious common thread. There are holy meals in every culture–fasts, feasts, and food laws make up a hefty chunk of observation for many faiths.

Back to the bagel: I look at Rachel’s bagel and think about my own family bagel ritual, how we always have a bagel spread whenever we visit each other, always with the same bagels, the same shmears, the same bells and whistles laid out in the same familiar pattern of bagel efficiency. It’s our thing.

In April, Chrysalis will host a discussion on Food as Ritual with Victoria Saunders, PhD, which will examine food rituals, both on a macro level, looking at worldwide cultural rituals, as well as a personal look at family food rituals. Chrysalis partnered with the Visual Arts Center for this one, and participants will create placemats inspired by their own food rituals as part of the exploration.

Tricycle Gardens lends their perspective to the theme in April with a discussion about Growing a Local Food System with Tricycle Gardens’ Executive Director Sally Schwitters. Chrysalis bookends the experience with a tour of Tricycle Gardens Urban Farm in Union Hill.

“When I think about our local food system (which is almost always),” says Schwitters, “I consider the connections that occur throughout every stage of the process. The process of growing healthy soil that provides us with depths of flavor in the foods we love. The connections that grow between farmers and chefs as they create deliciousness together. The beauty that is cultivated throughout communities that feed our bellies, our spirits and minds. Growing our local food system is all about these connections and the magic that comes from the process.”

The theme culminates in May with keynote speaker Kristin Kimball, author of The Dirty Life: On Farming, Food, and Love. Kimball left behind a fast-paced New York lifestyle to marry a farmer and start with him the only horse-powered, full-diet CSA in the country. Every week, year-round, 222 families come to Essex Farms to receive a complete weekly allotment of “grass-fed beef, pastured pork, chicken, eggs, fifty different kinds of vegetables, milk, grains and flour, fruit, herbs, maple syrup, and soap.”

In her book, Kimball describes how connecting to the land at Essex Farm had a profound impact on her spiritual life. She’s talked about her journey from O Magazine to NPR, and in May she’ll talk about it at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church.

“What makes her really relevant to Chrysalis,” says Douglas, “Is that she talks about the idea that, just as you transform the land, the land transforms you. She talks about this huge transformation she had in her life, from this really stressful job and environment to a different type of stress but something that’s ultimately set her free.”


Delve into the whole series or register for just one or two of the events–whatever works best for you!

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