Some Soul Food for You
June is National Soul Food month, did you know? I'm preeeettty sure "soul food" on the National Day Calendar means, ahem, soul food (as in bacon-infused collard greens and lots of creamy deliciousness--which I'll get to in a bit), but I've been hung up on the irony of June being "National Soul Food Month" for a couple reasons. Why? Well, here we are finally coming (or beginning to come) out of COVID-19, this global pandemic. And regardless of your stance on this virus, whether or not you think the perceived threat was blown out of proportion, or that we are moving too quickly out of quarantine, or...fill in the blank...I think we could all agree on one thing: the past few months have been HARD. We, as humans, are wired for human connection. And it's amazing how something as seemingly benign as "social distancing" (ironically implemented for "protection") can cause such a disastrous and devastating domino effect.
Over the past 3.5 months of COVID quarantine, domestic violence incidents have risen 24% (1). Suicide rates doubled, largely due to the skyrocketing unemployment rate, and the National Suicide Prevention Center hotline saw a 338 percent increase in call volume from February 2020 to the end of March 2020 (2). And while I don't have a documented statistic, it doesn't take a researcher to observe that the number of non-COVID deaths among the senior adult community had markedly increased during this time of isolation...and should we really be surprised?
I think this quarantine has affected each of us differently, not surprisingly. As an eternal (sometimes hopeless) optimist, I have really tried to focus on the positives, like the opportunity to rest more and take a much-needed break from a crazy schedule. I also learned a lot over these past few months, and things that are and will remain invaluable to me for the remainder of my time on this earth. But this has been extremely hard on me, too...as I have no doubt it has been for you reading this.
But I also wanted to take this opportunity, gifted to me through National Soul Food Month, to honor one of my favorite vegan bloggers, who just so happens to be the QUEEN of vegan soul food. There's so much synchronicity and irony all at the same time right now. With the pandemic, all of our souls feel so barren. And now with the protests, the fight for justice and equality, and the dire need to take a stand with our fellow humans and support black lives everywhere in a big way, my soul has been tugged on more than a few times recently.
So my point? Well, like I said. June is National Soul Food Month...so I'm going to give your soul some food (and then give your food some soul...okay, okay, I'm done). But in all seriousness, as you read this post and enjoy the recipe from it, I ask you to celebrate, support, respect, and honor black persons everywhere. Reflect on the fact that we are all intimately connected and unified through our souls. And vow to take a stand and speak up for your brothers, your sisters, whose souls have been so bruised and battered for so long.
"Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart...Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God..." -1 Peter 1:22 and 2:17
The Food Your Soul Needs After Quarantine
Below I've listed some of my own personal favorite ways to feed my soul. I hope some of these resonate with you, too.
Journal. I know this probably sounds super cliche and way overly emphasized...BUT, hear me out. Writing heals. And it heals in a way that nothing else can. There is something about digging up your deepest, darkest, rawest emotions and vomiting them onto paper that literally is like washing your soul. If you don't believe me, I dare you...no, I implore you to try it. Then report back to me (please, seriously! Do it!) and tell me how much better you felt afterwards.
Let your phone die. Okay, so you don't have to actually let your phone die because I guess someone could need to get in touch with you. But at the very least, unplug. Go on a walk and leave your phone at home. Better yet, put your phone in your closet and leave it there for an hour or two...or 24 or 48. Same thing with your TV, radio, iPad, and whatever else is constantly feeding your brain with headlines and COVID updates and toxicity. I don't normally watch the news, but started to watch when the virus stuff started, and I can honestly tell you it has taken a massive toll on my mental health. The media is...relentless, and there is and forever will be an emergency, something to be fretting about, and something to keep your stomach in knots and your mind running in circles when your brain should be shutting down for the day. Shut it all off/down/out...just for a day. I guarantee it will do you some good.
Make a list. I want you to make a list of all the uncomfortable things you may be feeling or wrestling with right now, or have felt and/or wrestled with during this quarantine. This is different than journaling--this is a structured, bulleted or numbered list. Don't worry about elaborating on each item. Just write it out. Keep your list in a safe place where you can look back on it and reflect, but where it will remain private for your eyes only.
Try breath work. We all know that breathing is important (at least, I hope we do...), but few of us realize that, 90% of the time, we are not breathing properly! This is where breath work comes in. "Proper" breathing involves our diaphragm, which sits below our lungs at the top of our abdominal cavity. Full, deep breathing is often referred to as "belly" breathing, because it expands the diaphragm. Experiment with adding breath work into your daily routine: start with 5 minutes of deep, belly breathing--breathing in for 4 counts, breathing out for 7 counts--and gradually work up to 10-15.
Tune out with tunes. Music therapy is a very real thing--as are the benefits. Music therapy can be as simple as spending an hour or so relaxing and enjoying your favorite music, be it instrumental, indie, metal, classical, or a combination of all of the above. A tip? Studies show that music can change our mood, but for best results, start by listening to something that matches your current mood, and abruptly transition to something that would incur the mood you desire to have (3). For example, if you're angry and want to feel calm and peaceful, a sample song progression might start with "Numb" by Linkin Park, and then switch to basically anything by Bon Iver or Benjamin Francis Leftwich. Make sense? Now you try!
Feed your soul by feeding your faith. If you've been in a darker place spiritually recently, you're not alone. When there's so much darkness in the world, it can be SUCH a struggle not to be overcome by it. But what we feed grows, and if we are continually, day after day putting in the work to feed our faith, it WILL grow. Maybe slowly, maybe sometimes seemingly without progress, but never doubt that every time you open your Bible or pray God is planting seeds in your heart...we just have to keep watering them day after day. A tip: in my most difficult days spiritually, I have struggled to read my Bible. Sometimes due to distraction, sometimes due to frustration, sometimes due to a combination of complex emotions. And while books and devotional materials are no substitute for the Word of God, I believe that God speaks powerfully through His servants, and things like podcasts, recorded sermons, Christian books and devotionals, etc. can be literally lifesaving. They definitely have been for me. If you need recommendations, check out this page. You can also ALWAYS email me if you're in need of support.
The Food Your Body Needs All the Time
As promised, a soul food recipe in honor of National Soul Food Month. But this isn't just any soul food recipe...this is a healthy, vegan, quick and easy, AWESOME Sweet Potato Soul Food Salad by one of my all-time FAVORITE vegan bloggers, Jenné Claiborne. Jenné is the mastermind behind Sweet Potato Soul, and has been featured in SHAPE Magazine, HuffPost Taste, Well+Good, Vegetarian Times, and the Reader's Digest. She also has an amazing cookbook out now, "Sweet Potato Soul: 100 Easy Vegan Recipes for the Southern Flavors of Smoke, Sugar, Spice, and Soul."
I HIGHLY encourage you to check out Jenné's blog and support her by following her on social media and purchasing her cookbook. You won't regret it (and neither will your tastebuds!). So, without further ado, here is her "Southern Sweet Potato Salad" recipe!
Image taken from www.sweetpotatosoul.com
1. 2 sweet potatoes, boiled and cubed (see note above)
2. 4 yukon potatoes, boiled and cubed (see note above)
3. ½ cup vegan mayo (I use Just Mayo)
4.1 teaspoon celery seed
5. ½ -1 teaspoon salt
6. 2 teaspoons dijon mustard
7. 6 tablespoons dill relish
8. ¼ cup white onions, diced
1. Peel and cube the potatoes, then place them into a mixing bowl.
In another bowl combine the vegan mayo, celery seed, salt, mustard, dill relish, and onions and stir well.
2. Pour the mayo mix over the potatoes, and stir well to coat.
Season to taste with more salt if necessary.
3. Serve immediatly OR set it in the fridge to let the flavors marry for at least one hour. Overnight is ideal!
In closing, let me just give you a bit more food for your soul, through me saying I'm proud of you. I'm proud of you for persevering through these hard past couple of months, and keeping faith and fight and fun alive in your heart and in the world. It hasn't been easy, but you did it...you're DOING it, and you're awesome. And I'm so, so proud of you...and YOU should be proud of you, too.
Until next time,
Stay happy, stay healthy, and stay hopeful.
Dr. Anna R. Johnson, ND/CNS