About Restaurants

"I now understand that if simple, plain home-cooked meals taste insipid and boring, that is because I have been getting too much into processed and restaurant food. I know from years of experience that it will take me a few weeks to relish simple and nourishing food again.” -SH


About Restaurants 

I am going to share here things I wish I had known 50 years ago. Such knowledge would have convinced me to make it a high priority to never, even once a month, eat at restaurants (at least in Los Angeles). My body has become so sensitive to various forms of chemicals and other insults, I can maybe speak from direct experience. Others have told me I am like a canary in a coal mine; giving early warning.

I have suffered much for eating restaurant food, so what you are reading here may be a bit strong. If you are a restaurant owner or worker, please know this is not personal. I understand that restaurant owners and workers are good people trying to make a living in a difficult and competitive marketplace.  

As Moshe Feldenkrais said,  “We are all victims of a passing culture” and blame is not appropriate, therefore. But nonetheless this is what I have to say:

When I struck out on my own, left home and got a job, I made a predictable decision. It was perhaps the biggest mistake I could ever have made, during my entire lifetime:

"OK, now that I am working for the Post Office, living alone and no longer have home cooked meals, and making good money, I can eat at restaurants. It makes perfect sense. I am going to school full time as well, running and doing Bikram Yoga and meditating. I have high spiritual goals so it is OK. I will have more time to meditate if I eat out, instead of buying and preparing my own food. I really have no time to cook. I can afford restaurant food, even every day. I enjoy that food; I look forward to my time in a restaurant as a respite from my busy schedule. Besides, while I DO know how to cook, what I make for myself never tastes as good as restaurant food. I eat that food with real zest; my own food is not that way. They must have really good cooks at restaurants."

What I should have been thinking (and also I was getting intuitive guidance like this, which I totally ignored):

"OK let’s cut back on restaurants. Better to eliminate them altogether. There are lots of creative ways to prepare and travel with your own food. It may take a little courage, not going with the crowd. But if I am honest with myself I know that my life goes better when I do my own cooking.  I will save money and time. I can be fully organic. Besides, who knows, restaurant food may not be all that good for me in the long term.”


And now, in retrospect, I can say this with confidence:

The MSG and bad salt and white processed sugar, and addictive wheat and flavor enhancers or “excito-toxins” (chemicals similar to MSG but under many different names) over-stimulated my appetite until over-eating at restaurants had become an “OK” established habit (because it was familiar, and also because most everyone else in the restaurant was overeating too). I put myself in a mind-set where no guilt or self-control needed to be contemplated. Restaurants were a ‘time out’ from a busy life, where I could give gustatory pleasure full reign. That was my failing and I take full blame. I knew I had to train for marathons and do Bikram Yoga just to feel half-way normal; I thought I was being athletic and even heroic, and did not understand I had a culturally-implanted eating disorder, for which I then used extreme exercise to burn off all that food and feel half-way normal.

And by the way, once I understood and corrected this in myself (which took decades) I could see it everywhere, including in many clients. Their supposed athleticism and gym workouts were part of a pattern of adaptation to an eating disorder. It is like one Greek philosopher said: “I see two kinds of young men: those who eat heavily and engage in gymnastics and martial arts, and those who eat moderately and engage in philosophy.”

Even worse than the regular restaurant meals was the lingering effect. I was training myself to be enthusiastic, and look forward all day, to my restaurant indulgences. I should have been training my enthusiasm to be fired up for working hard, for being responsible, for spiritual practices and self-control, and not for sensory indulgence.

Restaurants taught me to think that all food should taste this good. So I would be seeking in various avenues to experience that same kind of extreme over-stimulation of all the senses, just like the taste buds were being extremely over stimulated. That meant junk food nibbling, TV and movie addiction, enjoyment of rock music, and denial of any personal responsibility for all this; after all, the entire culture was going in this direction, how could it be wrong? We are prosperous, successful, and we all work hard. Such was my thinking.

But mixed into all this were my high spiritual ambitions, and efforts, which, not surprisingly, were continually being met with less than good success (shall we say). And from that silence that comes during meditation, I would often get intuitive promptings along this line: 

"Instead of restaurants, at least twice a week prepare the simplest but nourishing meals you can. Eat slowly, do not read anything or watch TV. Concentrate on eating. Take 5 minutes to say an opening prayer and affirmation, not to “bless” the food, but to put yourself in a state of calmness, and self-control, knowing the you are not the body, and that food is to nourish the body also, not just to taste good. Enjoy the taste yes but don’t be controlled by that.  Otherwise, if you keep eating at restaurants, where taste rules supreme, your spiritual path will continually be frustrated, and you won’t know why. It will drive your life and habits towards hedonism."

I did not realize then that when we meditate and get such “inner guidance” it is should be priority #1 in our lives to implement that guidance. But my mind would rationalize like this:

“But everyone else is eating at restaurants and it seems perfectly OK. What is the problem?”

Knowing what I do now, here is what I would have said to that kind of rationalization:

"If you look at this in the big picture, as a cultural experiment, with an entire Nation doing appetite-stimulating restaurant food, with an abundance of bad salt and white sugar and MSG and addictive wheat, preservatives and pesticides, along with meat of all kinds, and with TV and movies, what you might expect is, progressively as the decades go by, that Nation and those people will be taking a downward path as the decades progress."

In my humble opinion, I have seen that to be true.


I have heard that the restaurant food in other countries does not make a person sick; I have English, French, Brazilian and even Russian friends who tell me that whenever they come to the USA and especially Los Angeles, they avoid restaurants completely, the food is SO bad and makes them sick. These friends are all eager to host me in their home country and show me how good their restaurants are, compared to LA. I can look forward to such a thing, as well.  In Brazil, I am told, in many cities, in each block, there is at least one private home that serves home-cooked meals, like a restaurant, but home cooked.  I like that idea very much. In America, of course, even thinking about such a thing is probably illegal and violates some health and sanitation law.

I can testify that when I travelled in Florence, Italy, in about 2001, not a single restaurant meal – and I had many - made me feel heavy, bloated, depressed or exhausted the next day. That is always the test, how do I feel the next day after the food has been digested. Usually, the better the food tastes at a restaurant, the more I will be feeling the negative effects the next day. I am right away suspicious when people tell me they found this wonderful restaurant and the food is so good. In this way I may be like a canary in a coal mine: very sensitive.

However, in the past 10 years or so, in Los Angeles, raw, organic and vegan (the word organic must be there) restaurants have begun to show up in Southern California. This is good news; I don’t get sick eating in those places, quite the contrary. They don’t use toxic salt, nor MSG, it is all organic, and usually prepared with genuine heart energy, or enthusiasm by a young person (or a very spiritual and positive-minded person) who usually believes in what they are he or she is doing.

This contrasts to mainstream restaurants, where the cook is not vegan, nor spiritual, and almost certainly he or she is not radiating vibrations of love, compassion, enthusiasm, optimism and joy, as is often the case in these high-end raw/vegan/organic restaurants. It’s only a job to him. He may even be bored. All those vibrations get into the food he is preparing. Even worse, he may be watching TV while he prepares your food.  It is "buyer beware" for sure, at a run-of-the mill restaurant in Los Angeles.

I can actually get hints about the mind-state of a cook, when I eat his or her food. This is commonly understood, I’d guess, in most spiritual communities and traditions. Such places seem to understand that it is best to have a moral or spiritual person for a cook, because his or her vibrations are going to get into the food.

If the cook is reading the newspaper, everybody who eats that food is going to want to read the newspaper, even if they never had that habit before. If you regularly eat at his restaurant, you’ll just think that is the way you are, not knowing that this negative trait, or others, has been impinged upon you from an outside source.


In India, as well, it has become like an accepted piece of cultural wisdom (at least those Indians with whom I come into contact) the cook must be a spiritual person who is reciting mantras as they prepare the food. The mantras will get into the food. Traditionally, cooks were priests.  

In India it is widely accepted that to prepare food it is made as an offering to the God or Goddess they worship. Such food is called Prasad. I know many Indian women who cook, and not one of them would dream of tasting the food as they prepare it. It would be like a terrible sin. I ask them “How do you know how much salt and spice to add, if you never taste your cooking until others have been served?” And they all tell me “You just know. You get a feeling.” As well they all make a point of chanting mantras, because that’s just how you are supposed to cook. "The mantras get into the food."

Who knew, in Indian cooking you have a built-in method to begin to develop your intuition?

When I eat such mantra-imbued food, I can tell. For a three year period in Los Angeles (my last years in Los Angeles before I was forced to leave for health reasons) I was sick and slowly wasting; I could not gain weight and digestion of food proved troublesome. I weighed 145 or so, while losing a pound or so each month or two (no matter what I did) while my normal weight was 165. I survived, basically, by twice a week “generous” size meals prepared by such persons. That “mantra” food I could digest easily. Any other food I could not, including raw food, including homemade organic dishes. I was eager, as well, to take home as much of that food as I could. I remember thinking “This food is as healing and good tasting as what my mother used to make for me when I was young." And this was in spite of the fact that they were still using bad salt (That has now changed). It was during that difficult time that I discovered the magic of drinking two quarts of green smoothies each morning, which finally stabilized my situation.

As well, in India there is a tradition to cover the food, until it is served. There is the understanding, I am told, that when a person looks at food, his thoughts and vibrations go into that food. This is why I avoid salad bars. I feel empty and restless inside after eating at a salad bar, even though I ate plenty of food.

And I can testify, having lived in India now for some years, that restaurant food in India does not make me feel sick the next day. However, upon the advice of trusted friends, I am careful to choose vegetarian only restaurants in India. Apparently the sanitation is not to be trusted in restaurants that serve both meat and vegetarian dishes. Such restaurants may have a sign that says “VEG AND NON-VEG” and I stay away from such places.

When I am able to eat ashram food, prepared by spiritually striving people who are reciting a mantra while cooking – I can stabilize and even thrive on such food.   


Let’s get back to organic, raw restaurants in Southern California. There are three problems. First, they are pricy; Second, there are not enough of them; And third, they usually go out of business in a few years, or they begin to compromise and serve cooked food, and perhaps meat and sugar and MSG as well. This is a pity.

In LA we have vegan and vegetarian and raw and organic and ethnic restaurants, in addition to the standard fare, and all possible combinations of these. For all such combinations, except for organic/vegan/raw and organic vegetarian, the following paragraph describes the problems I have personally encountered after 40 odd years of patronizing them:

Toxic salt, MSG and other “flavor enhancers,” GMO food, salad bars, addictive wheat and gluten, white sugar, meat, pasteurized dairy from feed lot/stink lot diaries (not free range, chemical free, grass fed, organic and raw as was the case for all ancient dairy products except yogurt), eggs from chickens who are enduring the most extreme kinds of torture imaginable (those vibrations get into the eggs), sticky white flour that turns to glue in the gut, harmful oils, rancid oils, serving food that is not fresh. The vibration of such food, independent of all these other factors, has other qualities as well:

  • Selfishness. That summarizes the issue. Everything else comes from that.
  • Greed and also whatever other negative qualities the cook has.
  • Passive Abuse. As in, “It’s not that I am trying to damage you or your health, but I have to make a profit. It is not that our smiles, our cheerful service and decor is meant to deceive you; that’s just good business, good marketing. We will use music, art, and nice décor to make you feel comfortable with us. That’s not wrong! But well, yes, there is the MSG question, the cheap salt and commercial oils we all use, and maybe other things. Please don’t ask about them. It is the way things are."

 

Note:  MSG comes automatically in wholesale produce and canned goods. In California (and maybe nation-wide) it is LEGAL to spray non-organic greens and produce with MSG, for heaven’s sake. It makes the vegetables shiny and fresh looking, prolongs shelf life, and people eat more of it. It is a win-win for everyone (except you and I): the farmer, the wholesaler, the grocer and the restaurant owner, even the congressmen who voted to approve such a bill probably thought this was a good thing. But the bottom line is the consumer does not know about it, he is getting MSG in salads where he would never otherwise suspect. And that is just one example of MSG deception and abuse you’ll discover if you research this issue online. There are dozens more. Google “MSG Deception”.


I am not saying the restaurant owner is at fault for any of this (although there may be such cases); I do not blame him. He is just as much a victim as are we; he is just trying to survive in a corrupted system. I could wish, however, that such owners would do more research, be more courageous to tell the full truth, and make changes for the better. Instead they may even get angry or defensive if you ask about MSG. For instance if I ever saw one sign, at one restaurant, saying: “we use only MSG free organic greens for salads” they’d have me for regular customer, on the spot.

How many times I have gotten MSG sickness symptoms the next morning from a non-organic salad served at a VEGAN restaurant, where the owner will SWEAR, with righteous indignation, he does not add MSG! I had to pray and struggle and suffer for weeks, to get an answer to this puzzle, which finally came in the form of “inner guidance” so to speak, of researching the topic of MSG online, from alternative health websites. I was shocked at what I learned. MSG has 100 different names, is sprayed on non-organic lettuce and vegetables, and is a necessary and expected ingredient (under one strange or clever name or another; one has to be equally clever to penetrate the many disguises of MSG) of nearly every processed or canned or bottled or packaged food you can imagine. Yes, the restaurant owner may have THOUGHT he was telling the truth, when he denies MSG is in his food; he may not even know his lettuce is pre-sprayed with MSG or that his wholesale re-fried beans have MSG pre-added.

No he does not add MSG to his food but his food is nonetheless loaded with MSG or similar chemicals. I pretty much expect this at even vegan restaurants. At first, when vegan-Thai restaurants began to appear in my vicinity (East Hollywood, near “Thai-Town”), I was enthusiastic about it. But every time I ate at such a restaurant, I got sick the next day. Whether it was the GMO non-organic soy (which most vegan restaurants use to excess) or the MSG or something else, I was not sure, at first. Later, it became clear to me, in spite of their denial that MSG was NOT added to the food, their food was LOADED with MSG. But also I know I cannot handle the soy, even if they tell me it is organic and/or non-GMO. So I now look at vegan restaurants as just another way to get sick.

Again, we can’t blame the restaurant owner; he is just trying to make a business work. If all the other restaurants in his vicinity use MSG, and people are used to that, as seems to be the case, any restaurant that does NOT use MSG is going to have a hard time staying in business. Their food will taste flat and tasteless by comparison. What are they to do?  Unless they go along, probably they will go out of business. That puts the restaurant owner in a terrible dilemma.

 

I now understand that if simple, plain home-cooked meals taste insipid and boring, that is because I have been getting too much into processed and restaurant food. I know from years of experience that it will take me a few weeks (at most) to once again calm down my taste buds so that they can relish simple and nourishing food.

So the system, by design or happenstance, apparently enables restaurants to “truthfully” deny putting MSG in the food. And they tell this to me with a righteous indignation and honest belief that it is true.

Again, MSG (and a host of other, similar chemicals that go by other names) has at least 100 different names, and some foods already have a natural content of MSG. The owner can swear to you “We do not add MSG” but that does NOT mean you are not eating food loaded with MSG. This is what my body has told me many times, the following day, when I feel the effects of having eaten MSG. My gut aches, feeling inflamed and hot. My nerves feel raw. There is a headache. It feels like I have been poisoned. There is a particular energetic signature I have come to recognize easily. But I can’t feel this until the next day, for some reason. While I am eating MSG, like everyone else, all I know is it tastes SO good. But later, I am on edge and irritable. I have that familiar, hot-feeling headache on the sides of my head. I am just sharing my truth, my experience here, and don’t mean to be critical of restaurant owners. But I can’t avoid the references to them, when I speak about this subject.

Here are a few questions that can be used when speaking to restaurant managers:

  • Why do I get sick like MSG poisoning after eating your salads?
  • Do you use only organic greens and vegetables for salads? Did you know that non-organic greens are already sprayed with MSG?
  • Have you researched the issue of MSG deception? Have you ever asked your wholesale provider of produce if MSG is on the salad greens?  
  • From where do you order your food? Do you know the owner? Do you trust him? Have you asked him what he knows about MSG in his food?
  • What kind of salt do you use? What kind of oil do you use? How often to you switch out your deep fry oil for fresh oil?
  • What kind of eggs do you use? From where do you buy them? How do they treat their chickens?
  • How much of your food is GMO?
  • Are your cooks vegetarians? If not, are you sure they wash their hands carefully before they handle food? Do they always use gloves?

 

Restaurants, as they are presently contrived at least in Southern California, are taking us where no culture has gone before. The food is engineered for profit and that means chemicals that stimulate appetite, or stimulate the pleasure-seeking instinct. I look back at my old bad habit of every week a restaurant meal then a movie and see how the two things were a matched pair. All this can be catastrophic for a person trying to live a balanced spiritual life, as many do.

I’ve had a hobby of studying the lives, and reading stories about, saints of all religions. I’ve read many volumes.  It strikes me as I write this, that I cannot think of even one story, or one saint, who made a practice of eating at restaurants, or “inns” or whatever they were called then. I struggle to remember even one story of one saint, who ate even one time at a restaurant.

What about high-end restaurants with expert chefs being in a different category? “They use better ingredients and adhere to higher standards.” As I don’t go to such places I cannot speak to that. My speculation would be that the sanitation, the presentation, the décor and music, as well as the ambience would be superb. And for sure the food will taste really good. But, HOW does that happen?  Is it just because of the expert blend of fresh spices, quality ingredients, and highly professional cooking? That is what they want us to think. But is it true? I have been a professional chef, (so to speak; actually I was a cook with little training, in an ashram setting, using the most simple of ingredients, and a minimum of canned and processed foods) for seven years, and never could make food taste as good as restaurant food. So over the years I became suspicious about good tasting food in restaurants, and you are reading the result of those many years of curious inquiry.

I’ll tell you two tricks learned while I was an ashram cook. This is actually a confession, of sorts (I am typing this with a little chagrin); If you do these two things, people will immediately start to enthusiastically compliment you about your cooking; they will ask for the recipe. They will think you are this SUPERB cook.

  1. In soups and casseroles, and also vegetable dishes (anything cooked) add a little bit of white sugar. I was taught to do this by my “cooking mentor”, a long time monk associated with the ashram. He told me “This is your secret. It is a cook’s secret you must never reveal. They’d be outraged.  You must never tell anyone. You must find a way to not reveal it even if they ask if you have added any sugar. It makes all the difference in whether people will like your cooking, or not. This includes people who say, “I never eat sugar”. One teaspoon or one tablespoon of white sugar in a large soup or casserole is not enough to hurt anyone, and it makes ALL the difference.  As I did this, over the years, I found his words to be true, as good as gold. I also came to justify this, to myself, by thinking in past decades the soil was rich, food was more tasty and probably sweeter, so by adding a tiny amount of white sugar, I am just giving people what should have been there all along.
  2. For any cooked dish, contrive to add one small can of commercial soup or tomato sauce or olives, etc. Anything from a supermarket that comes in a can, find a way to add some of that to all your cooked dishes, especially those that are made from scratch. This also will make people compliment your food; they will look forward to your food, and you will be the “cook hero” in the ashram. My ashram mentor also taught me this. What I now understand about this is that MSG is put into the food this way, since virtually anything in a can from a market, has MSG or something similar (but under a different clever name). I would justify this to myself with logic such as this: people are so corrupted by restaurant and junk food that most all of them LIVE to eat MSG and stimulating, irritating commercial table salt. They think it is “God’s gift to me” and “my right” to have such food.  One can in a dish for 20 people is NOT MUCH so I am not really hurting anybody. Their taste buds will recognize the familiar MSG that they associate enthusiastically with “good food” and their digestion will be better, they will eat more of my good nutritious food, etc.

 

So a person reading all this might think, Steve you are just as guilty as the restaurants themselves! You did the same thing! And, they’d be right. As you now see, you can’t even trust a somewhat spiritually minded ashram cook!

 

The Moral of the Story

Prepare your own food, buy organic produce, shop at your local farmer’s market if you want to be healthy, happy and spiritual. This is not being extreme. What the culture is doing is extreme.

© Copyright 2015 Steve Hamlin  www.mybodycanlearn.com