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‘The Vegetable Whisperer’

Toshio Tanahashi: ‘Vegetable Whisperer’

“I would like people to eat and experience shojin cuisine using their gokan (the five senses). Explanation is all very well, but true understanding does not come without listening to the silent voice of vegetables. You must put effort into facing the things that you cannot see with your eyes or hear with your ears to find an answer. That is Buddhist cuisine.”

For ‘vegetable whisperer’ Toshio Tanahashi, shojin-ryori cooking isn’t just a matter of technique, but a spiritual experience which he hopes will lead towards greater understanding of the way we view our food and our dietary habits. As the potentially catastrophic global impact of cattle farming become increasingly apparent, it may just hold the key to a more sustainable future too.

For the uninitiated, shojin-ryori is an entirely vegetarian Buddhist cuisine that was first introduced to Kyoto monasteries by the Chinese in the 7th century. Sho means “purify” and jin comes from the word for “advance.” In other words, it means to “move forward whilst respecting the old, and keeping oneself pure.” Only plants are used – no meat or fish, only grains and vegetables – and Toshio is a true master of his art, respected the world over. Whether you’re Buddhist or not, or indeed vegetarian, the gokan no ge (five reflections) recited before meals lend a powerful and thought-provoking spirituality to the ritual of eating that makes a hell of a lot of sense whatever your beliefs:

The gokan no ge:
(the five reflections)

ONE Engage with the food. Consider how nature’s miracles and people’s hard work have culminated in the creation of the food you are about to enjoy.

TWO Reflect upon your day and yourself. Contemplate whether your actions make you worthy of the meal in front of you.

THREE Observe whether your own spirit is pure like the food. A mind full of the three greatest evils (greed, anger and ignorance) cannot truly appreciate or savour the food.

FOUR Chew slowly and enjoy every bite. Good food is medicine. It is a way of rejuvenating and purifying your fatigued body.

FIVE Be thankful for all, and eat with gratitude. To make and eat good food is part of walking the virtuous path of Buddhism.

For more on Toshio’s shojin adventures, head to his website, here.

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