Published Jan 23, 14 PM
By Shana Sturtz
My roots are in Oregon, where the commonalities of my childhood were marijuana growing in my neighbors’ backyards, Rice Dream, and attempts at making tofu as delicious as dead flesh. Having a sweet tooth, my Dad opted for the Sweet-n-Low alternative, swearing this was a healthy option, but for most, sugar — including the artificial sort — was not tolerated. This was the 1970s though, before detox, cleanse, and gluten-free were everyday language. It was also before food alternatives dominated the US consumer market.
There were some preachy diet folk in my neighborhood who restricted their children’s diets to an extreme. This resulted in kids stashing candy under their beds for regular feasting, as well as lifelong food issues and eating disorders. My parents weren’t that restrictive (my mom grew up on things like tongue and salami), and so it wasn’t until I entered the world of yoga teachers and trainings that I became increasingly food-focused and paranoid.
How much diet transformation was enough?
My yoga TT experience was full of people attempting to be raw-foodies, juicing their veggies, and cleansing by ingestion of salts and herbs. And there were glowing reviews of colon cleanses, something my Grandma used to administer to my dad (against his will) in their bathroom, but not something I wanted to pay hundreds of dollars for. I felt some pressure and doubt about my resistance to the world of cleansing. Should I be fasting and only drinking lemon water like my fellow teachers? Did my insides need cleaning? Did I need to do this shit so I could talk about it with my students, or could I admit my true belief — which was to drink water and lay off alcohol, and that would be enough of a cleanse?
A little history: Every year while growing up I was semi-expected to forgo food for Yom Kippur to repent for my sins the previous year. Sure, what sins? I would make it maybe two hours into the day, and then binge on lasagna while standing at the refrigerator. The only year I managed to fast for six hours was after partying late the night before and sleeping through most of Yom Kippur day. My point: I don’t do fasting. I am a hungry person. And as far as mysterious herbs and other flushing mechanisms, I don’t trust them and never felt the need to go there.
But again, I felt a nagging guilt about this in the yoga world. Everyone else seemed to be game and paying the big money for detox programs.
Fast forward to now. I am a yoga teacher living in Guadalajara, Mexico, land of the meat everything, where “vegetarian” means you don’t eat beef, but you still eat pig’s ears; where you are considered a picky eater if you don’t eat tripe. Here, nobody talks about food elimination, and in fact, Mexico may fall as a society if forced to eliminate Coca-Cola. People eat what they like. For my husband, this move was prompted by a job change, but for me it was a welcome escape from what I saw as a competitive and self-indulgent Portland yoga scene. A scene that put too much emphasis on what people should and should not eat, and where anyone could lead their own cleanse, and did.
Living in Mexico, I am struck by peoples’ unadorned, guilt-free pleasure of food. I also love the pride most women seem to have in their bodies. The women rocking it at the gym are strong, muscular, and eat heartily. Nobody talks about cleansing; no one talks about wheat vs. gluten-free. How liberating to see people enjoying food without so much baggage and analysis. I try not to judge the diet here, even though I think most people back home would have considerable difficulty with acceptance.
I am, however, not shielded from the growing cleanse talk in Portland and around the US, especially exploding with popularity in the New Year.
Recently, I attended a yoga gathering in Mexico filled with Americans, and I left even more disillusioned with the US yoga community. The food served at our retreat was healthfully prepared with fresh ingredients that had to be brought in on a boat from Puerto Vallarta, because of our remote location. Preparation of fresh and healthy meals was labor intensive for a variety of reasons. I was overjoyed to eat this kind of food in Mexico, not to mention that the staff was so thoughtful in their preparation. However, some of the group did not share my joy, and continuously asked questions like, “Did this strawberry touch a kiwi?,” and “Did this piece of fish come in contact with a sea turtle?” Even though many people had legitimate food concerns, the requests and pickiness seemed way overdone.
I felt heartbroken by all the fussiness, all the food sent back, wasted and untouched. I hated the fact that our group was so high maintenance, and that the people who served and cooked for us were working and trying so hard. And so, I guess this is some of the perspective that living away from Oregon has given me: Yogis, try to let go of your control around food just a little bit, especially when you are in another land. And, cleanse if you must, but then just enjoy food for awhile, no strings attached
About Shana Sturtz
Shana Sturtz is a certified yoga teacher and survivor of the exploding Portland, Oregon yoga scene. She currently lives in Guadalajara, Mexico with her husband, Tom. She continues to teach yoga and tutors in English. She has practiced yoga for 15 years, and yes, she is older than most yoga teachers. She is currently looking for more ways to occupy her time in this new land where she hasn’t quite grasped the language, and she is too scared to drive. Coming from Portland, you only learn to ride a bike. While no longer living in Portland (where a new yoga studio opens every hour) she is forced to practice her yoga within the comforts of her home, often with her cat looking on admiringly.