D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Meal)

04/10/2014 11:21am ET | Updated June 10, 2014
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About a month ago, I had some folks over for brunch. It was then that I met the woman who prompted me to write this post. She was a friend of a friend, and within minutes, it became clear that she had strong opinions. One such judgment came a couple of bites into our orange vanilla pancakes, right after she asked me how I had infused so much flavor into something so basic. I explained, "I added a little orange zest to my go-to pancake recipe and..." Before I could finish, she interrupted me with, "That sounds complicated. When you come up with your five-minute-meals cookbook, get at me."

Now, the instinctual me -- you know, the Leo, first born, fought for everything I've got and not afraid to keep fighting, that me, wanted to politely check her.

But I've been meditating, trying to practice mindfulness, and this whole thinking-before-I-speak thing. So instead, I took a deep breath (and another sip of my honey whiskey-spiked strawberry mimosa) and said, "What auto-tune has done to hip-hop, the 30-minute-meal has done to our notion of good food."

After she left, I thought more about her comment. It was reminiscent of less-snide versions of similar sentiments I had heard from other friends. Like the friend who told me that she'd love to try my recipes, but she didn't have the time. Or the co-worker who told me that he'd love to eat more fresh foods, but they're too expensive. When I thought about what these folks were really saying, I came to the conclusion that they wanted good food, damn good food if possible, food that was also (at least relatively) good for them, and that they wanted it near instantly.

In essence, they wanted the auto-meal. But guess what? Good food, damn good food, doesn't always work that way. Just like real hip-hop doesn't work that way.

So, being the good psychologist, Buddha-in-training, wannabe-rap-star that I am, rather than continue to ruminate, I did the healthier, more adaptive thing. I pulled out my notebook, summoned my inner Mr. Carter, and wrote a rhyme. More accurately, I re-wrote Jay-Z's D.O.A. (Death of Auto-tune) -- with a culinary spin.

"D.O.A. (Death Of Auto-Meal)"

Only veg-centric cook to re-write history without a pen
Got green chile grits on the stove so let the story begin, begin, begin

[Verse 1]
This is anti auto-meal, get your back on the grindstone,
This ain't for fast food junkies, we just say 'no' to growth hormones,
This is Julia in her element, of whom I am so fond
Preferably in black and white with her voice so singsong
And strong, but the past is gone and now I resurrect
This might offend my culinary connects
My recipes don't try to appease
This should make foodies wanna go and grab chickpeas
Get your hummus pureed and eaten
I may do it myself, this is my proclamation
Natural, colorful food is the best medicine
But the quick and dirty food y'all make lacks heart and nutrition
Comida sin alma has no beautification
You don't have to be vegan, we're all in the same clan
Mindful eating brilliance
This is death of auto-meal moment of silence


[Verse 2]
Food prepared with care ain't a dream deferred
I gladly arm myself with an apron
I take my time with cooking and...
... now I plea, don't be fooled by the hype reckoned
Keep thinking less is more and your find yourself aging
Your skin, your hair, your body quickly dying, no lying
Instead, don't you want to be bright?
Glowing like a star in the night, floating like flight
Being in good spirits and keeping off the weight
Joyful, peaceful, as health serenades
You to the age of 100
Can you imagine being 1 hundred?
All this you will be destined
Just watch what you chew, nothing wretched, just sacred
Mindful eating brilliance
Death of auto-meal, moment of silence


[Verse 3]
Food that's cooked in a rush is flimsy
Making you drowsy and crazy lazy
Get somebody who knows food to talk on this
Give this to your moms, let her child reflect on it
Not trying to preach on this
I just want y'all to know the power of this
You are what you eat, it's clutch
That's not nonsense and such
I'm no millionaire
But I'm rich with vitality here
I know true wealth and prosperity, it's comes in a bouquet
Of fresh, food cooked with love by me
Chopped with attention, sautéed conscientiously, oh so gingerly
Mindful eating brilliance
This is death of auto-meal moment of silence.

Now, I can only imagine Jay-Z's frustration when he wrote D.O.A. Here was auto-tune reducing hip-hop, traditionally defined by its depth, flow, and creativity, to a pseudo-genre of hooks, bad pitch, and gimmicks. I'm also frustrated. I'm frustrated by the rise of the auto-meal, and also by our implicit willingness to let our busy schedules, misaligned priorities, and need for instantaneous gratification, strip food and dining of its soul and passion. Yet, whereas the rise of auto-tune within one of my favorite genres is just plain annoying, the rise of the auto-meal has proven to be a recipe for disaster, clearly seen in rising obesity rates and other ominous diet-related disease statistics around the world.

I know what you're thinking. No, not the part about how favorable my budding rap career is. The other part. The part about how you are way too busy, and do not even have 30 minutes to cook, let alone time to make pancakes on a Saturday -- with or without vanilla and orange zest. And to you, I say, I get it. I'm busy, too. In fact, even as a food lover and entrepreneur, I find myself eating cereal for dinner more often than I care to admit publicly.

But just as true hip-hop is an art that when performed from the heart has the power to engage masses and literally move crowds, real food when prepared from the heart has the power to nourish minds, bodies, and spirits, thereby transforming our lives. This is why we should not wait another moment to check our expectations and critically assess our priorities. For when we do, we'll quickly see that when it comes to something as essential as what, when, and how we eat -- the combination of care, attention, and patience is just what we need to truly savor life and maximize our well-being.