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Joyful Cooking With Jivamukti's Renaissance Woman

“Live your life enhancing the lives of others,” says Sharon Gannon. “That’s the purpose of life, isn’t it?”

Sharon, a long-time yogi, author, musician and animal-rights activist, has always lived by this, and her latest offering to the masses brings it to literal fruition:

On the eve of the 30th anniversary of Jivamukti, the legendary Yoga studio she founded with David Life, Sharon launched Simple Recipes for Joy, a book of her over 200 vegan easy-to-follow-recipes.

“It happened really organically!” says Sharon, no pun intended (probably). “I certainly didn’t intend to write a book, I just intended to become a better cook! So I experimented, had dinner parties. And if what I cooked was a hit, I was careful to write everything down and try to duplicate it. Just as when you’re improvising with music or dance, which is really my background, if you hit on something that sounds good and seems to work, you want to codify it and see if you can repeat it.”

Sharon reveals there was another, personally practical reason for the book as well:

“One thing that drives me crazy is an un-organized workspace,” she says. “My office at home is filled with so many manuscripts and notebooks filled with stuff. So it was really just my way of organizing my messy office!” she laughs. “(The recipes) all existed in a real makeshift way. And I wanted to finish it. It’s good to finish projects.”

She then explained that her passion for cooking came from her initial journeys as a spiritual seeker in her early 20s.

“My first spiritual teacher, Randy Hall, was an alchemist, and I went to learn that from him,” says Sharon. “He asked, “Why do you want to learn alchemy?’ And I said, I want to become enlightened.’

Randy had three prerequisites on the road to Samadhi. “’You have to master cooking, cleaning and gardening.’” Sharon smiles. “Now, I consider myself a modern woman. Cooking? I didn’t want to eat at all! I was trying to live on air. Cleaning? You hire someone to do that! Gardening? C’mon, we live in the city!

Sharon explains that It took me many years to realize the wisdom of those teachings. “Because when you have to cook, you learn from a base, grounding level about so many things. It’s quite an art. I don’t know if I mastered it yet, but I’m intrigued by it and I’m really enjoying it.”

As a budding chef, I asked Sharon where I should start. “Tea and Toast!” she grins. “You can do a lot with that!” In fact, the book has a whole section on the latter, including Sharon’s poached “eggs” on toast recipe made with tofu, vegan margarine and flaxseed oil (even I could make that work!). The book also has toast treats with tomatoes, avocado and nut butter spread.

The book launch was marked with a blowout bash and book signing at Jivamukti on Sept. 16, where guests including Sting and Trudie Styler, Krishna Das and Kris Carr (who wrote the foreword) were treated to delicious plates culled from the pages of the book. These include Jivamuktea Café’s signature dish, Spirulina Mullet, and Kanten, Sharon's favorite dessert to prepare at the moment. It's a vegan jello made with apple juice, agar-agar flakes, banana and whipped cream. "It's easy to make and it wows people!" she says. I loved the butterfly cookies made with powdered-egg replacer and vegan margarine. And for those bacon fanatics that are legion these days, there's the Vegan BLT made with vegan bacon, olive oil and vegan mayonnaise. And all are as easy to prepare as they sound.

Sharon and David also put on a Vegan-themed performance piece, bringing to life the Mad Hatter Tea Party scene that graces the book’s cover. David was dressed as the titular character, while Sharon recited an ode to the joys of a plant-based diet and Tim Fain provided accompaniment on violin.

Sharon explains that when the food you prepare is offered to a higher place or power, it becomes Prasad, orblessed. But what if you can’t be sure that the food you take in was prepared with love? Say, when you go to a street vendor or a new restaurant? No doubt a common issue for busy NYC Yogis.

“Pray,” says Sharon. “Don’t drink or eat anything that you haven’t offered first. And each person has to make their own decision as to who it is offered to. Who is your God, who is it that you acknowledge as greater than your own ego? If you take the time to say a prayer of offering before you eat, it transforms that food. And cures us of that compulsive ‘stuffing your mouth’ eating.” Sharon suggests the beloved Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu blessing be used through the entire process of preparation, cooking and eating.

The dishes are prepared not only with the best vegan ingredients, but with more than a pinch of ahimsa as well. Sharon has long been a notable admiral rights advocate, a vanguard member of PETA and the author of Cats and Dogs are People Too!

I’m an abolitionist,” states Sharon. “I will not get behind slavery of any kind, be it human slavery or animal slavery. The earth does not belong to us, the animals do not belong to us. Just because we have the money does not give us the right to exploit another. And when you understand how things work—and yoga is very helpful in this way, in terms of karma—when you value your freedom, your mobility, you would never take it away from another. And animals that are exploited, raised for food or clothing, or used in laboratories or for entertainment—they are slaves, tethered and slaughtered.

Sharon feels that it all stems from the human failing of needing to dominate, to win.

“Why do we need to sit on top of a horse to feel good about ourselves?” she asks. “It’s due to low self-esteem. They feel like by harming another, by stealing another’s power, they will feel better, get healthier. But it only leads to more suffering. Heart disease, cancer, diabetes obesity…it’s all linked to eating animal and dairy products. We can do better, but we have to be compassionate for those who think that’s still a good thing to do. Anger and blame will not help. Love is the only way we can solve this problem.”

Sharon’s book tour runs to November and includes stops in LA, San Francisco, Seattle, Vancouver and Montreal. For more information, some complimentary recipes (including Sharon’s Amazing Chocolate Mousse!) and to order the book, click here.

--Jim Catapano

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