Baba Yaga’s Thanksgiving Tips for Big Hips and a Healthy Appetite

Something I wrote that seemed timely to share during this holiday season. A little wisdom from the Bone Goddess:

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Baba Yaga’s Thanksgiving Tips for Big Hips and a Healthy Appetite

Well-known for her iconic hut perched atop chicken feet and her flying mortar and pestle, Baba Yaga is the quintessential Slavic witch of the woods. Familiar throughout Eastern Europe as the frightening witch who entraps children and young women, she is older and more complex than a mere cannibal bone collector. Baba Yaga is also the wise woman and earth-mother who protects the forest, the animals, and the wisdom of ancient traditions in danger of being forgotten in a modern world. She is the opposite of what is glorified in our society: Baba Yaga is old, powerful, alone, and perpetually hungry, and her wisdom comes from that ineffable appetite.

It’s time to celebrate the harvest, when your ancestors would stack their tables full of food to celebrate the fruits of the growing season and fatten up for winter. As you face the feast ahead, I offer one simple piece of advice:

Reclaim your hunger.

Hunger is powerful. That’s why people are afraid of it. Hunger reminds us that we are alive and fragile. It casts a light on our mortality. If we eat, we have a chance at life. If we do not, we will eventually die. It may take the average person between 30-40 days to die without food, but die they will.

Hunger teaches us things. When we listen to our bodies, we learn important lessons: our bodies will signal when we are full; they will usually give us clues when we are lacking something. When we pay attention to hunger, we start to discover what we need to change about ourselves and the world around us. Hunger is transformative.

Hunger is holy; it is the emptiness waiting to be filled. Hunger is what tempted people to venture into my deep, dark woods. Hunger is what brought them to my door, and hunger is why I let them in.   So why have people stopped knocking on my door? They have learned to ignore their hunger.

And women have it worst of all when it comes to appetites. Taught to go without, so much language around nutrition and diet is full of words like “combat hunger” “fight cravings.” When did the table become a battleground and food the enemy?

Warm bread slathered in fresh melting butter, soup filled with hunks of potato, juicy meat falling off bones, salt to enhance flavor and combat boredom, honey to sweeten a hard life. The smell of savory stews makes our mouths water. The color of cooked beets is red like flushed cheeks, they feel smooth on the tongue, their taste is sweet, they stain the fingers. Eating is sensual. It fills our mouths with flavors and textures. Why did we stop delighting in this thing we must do every day?

When people could take food for granted, they stopped listening to hunger. They found other reasons to eat or not eat. Restraint replaced relish, and hunger became…monstrous.

Somewhere between vanity and morality, young women became removed from their appetites. Old women became frightening or invisible. And an old woman with unapologetic appetites was the worst of all.

Today, we are rarely shown old women in print or online. (Yes, I do have internet in my hut. If I can make my house turn around to face the stars, it’s not hard to boost a signal and tap into the global network.) But if we see an old woman with food of any sort, she is usually cooking or baking in her spotless kitchen. Or she may be serving a meal, her apron clean and her tray in hand. Do we see her eating? Do we see any women eating with gusto like famished farmers after a day of hard labor? Not usually. Not unless their perfectly lipsticked lips are wrapped around some kind of suggestive sexual substitute.

Food can be sexy, but women do not always eat to tease or please their lovers. Sometimes women savor their meals because there is pleasure in eating, and hunger is the foreplay of the feast. (Because the exquisite wanting makes it so much more delicious.)

Of course, finding our way back to our appetites will take more than fairy tale trails of breadcrumbs, unless maybe they are tossed with bacon fat and onions, seasoned with salt and pepper, and served alongside some succulent spiced meat and cheesy potatoes.

This holiday season, love the food you eat, and eat the food you love. Fill your plate with savory delights and you’ll be on your way to becoming a person of good taste. After that, I invite you to come to my hut, just look for the chicken feet. They’re hard to miss.

Hut of Baba Yaga by Gil Rimmer

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Reverie

Photo by 8 Eyes Photography.
Photo by 8 Eyes Photography.

I left the house early to run errands, and as soon as I sat down in the car, one of my favorite songs came on, the acoustic version of an oldie. I love it when that happens; those songs always feel like gifts–little touchstones to launch me into reverie and remind me of people and places that are often no longer in my life.

Maybe it was the music, or the way the wind felt on my face, or the way the air smelled, but I felt like I had slipped into my childhood skin. Do you know that feeling? One part deja vu, one part daydream. It hits at random times: stepping into an empty classroom, visiting an ice cream shop in a vacation town, waiting for someone at a restaurant, swinging on the swings in an empty park. I love the sensation, like time folding in on itself to give us a peek of something past.

Even after I returned home with groceries, unpacked them, and got into the business of the day, I felt residual nostalgia. Things I touched felt like allusions to other things, more so than usual: my broken rainbow coffee mug reminded me of my circle of girlfriends, Nutella brought me back to eating crepes on the Fressgasse in Frankfurt, cider evoked sitting around a campfire, and so it went all day long–little wisps of the past.

Today is the Autumnal Equinox, one of two days during the year when day and night are in balance (the other is the Spring Equinox). I started writing this at dusk, on the threshold of light and darkness. I love thresholds. I  believe that there’s magic in those in between spaces, so it doesn’t surprise me that the past was slipping in all day– looking to be remembered.

As I finish this, the sun has set, and the balance has shifted. This next half of the year belongs to the darkness, to cooler temperatures and the landscape of nature dying, to hearth fires and candles, to blankets and loved ones, to stories and dreaming and everything that keeps us warm.

Blessings of a bountiful harvest to you and yours.

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