Food

A Meditation on Cooking and Food

It is amazing how eating – one of the body’s most physically necessary processes – can be one of our most psychologically, sensually, and emotionally involved ones, as well.

When someone is unwell, whether actually ill or simply emotionally unsettled, our first instinct is to feed them. Prepare food, package and deliver it. This is the ultimate act of kindness.

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To welcome friends into a home, we prepare a meal, large or small. And intriguingly this meal will bring the group together and contribute to an atmosphere more so than any other component of the evening. The wine will influence the mood, but the food will provide the undeniable baseline of human connection. Food is simpler than alcohol, but more nourishing, and therefore more socially substantial.

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Food does not have to be extravagant or expensive to be good. Dessert, age five: rye bread, fresh butter, and swirls of wild honey, with a cup of bitter black tea on the side, whole leaves gently resting at the bottom of the cup. I have never had a cake or tart or mousse or dessert wine more satisfying, more indulgent, or more meaningful.

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Fasting is more powerful than prayer. It will always be a sincere effort: once a fast is completed, you will always be truthfully and simply grateful for the privilege of food. Further, an absence of food reminds us of the presence of spiritual nourishment: it is a powerful factor that makes us explore the connection between what feeds the body and what feeds the spirit. From a health point of view, fasting is first stressful to the body, then it is calming, then it is a proper rest to the system. And it is cleansing, not only because that is the trendy name for what fasting is, but because there is no better feeling of Clean. The re-appearance of food is then empowering, a surge of strength.

It is amazing what experiences and improvements we can make our bodies and minds go through by withholding and allowing food in different measures, simply manipulating our usual routine for a few hours or days at a time.

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Cooking is emotional. Spending one full day cooking is exhausting but it is not a chore. Cooking together with a loved one brings out the substance of your company. Cooking an impulsive recipe with love and goodwill will bring forth a result infinitely better than cooking a meal exactly to time-tested recipe while in a bad mood. The negative mindset will materialize in a sort of staleness in the meal. Why is this? Physically there is nothing but ingredients in the dish. How much feeling actually goes into cooking, if we can tell a bad mood of the cook from the first bite?

As a child I had the privilege of walking into a vegetable garden and picking fresh green onion tips to snack on from my grandmother’s plot. I only spent a few weeks in the village every summer. However, the vivid memories accumulated: the tallness of the corn stalks; idly picking off potato bugs from vegetable plants; a labyrinth of raspberry vines and the sweetness of the soft fresh berries; eggs for breakfast, laid by the hens that very morning; the incredibly bright green smell of tomato plants, recreated years later in my parents’ backyard.

We all have memories associated with food – directly or indirectly. Food is a factor of life that is irrevocably interwoven with our physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual well-being.

Whatever trends we follow – organic, gluten free, vegan, local – we should eat well, with purpose and intention, without reducing our diets to nutritional counts, but rather with the genuine wish to know and understand what foods we are cooking with, what things we are consuming, and how this sustenance affects us as complete persons from a physical and psychological point of view.

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