Thursday, February 02, 2006

Thinking about food

If I ever make a great discovery, it'll probably come to me while I'm mowing the lawn.

Tonight I'm painting the basement. Painting is a wonderfully simple, productive activity - your progress is visible, you're making things look nice, and most importantly, it gives you time to think while your hands are busy. It's like cooking, only you don't have to worry so much about when to take the lasagna out of the oven.

Anyway, tonight I was painting and thinking, and of course for me that means thinking about food. And what occurred to me was this.

A lot of people will say that they don't know how to cook, and while this may be technically true, I don't think that this is the real problem. As any chef knows, there's not a great depth of mystery to the art of cooking - it's a highly empirical science perfected only through extensive trial and error. The real problem is that they don't know why to cook.

For me, this has always been a bit of a no-brainer; my mother is Italian, and food is about love. However, the reasons to cook go deeper than even the love expressed by the cook for the... eater? English doesn't even have a word for the recipient of food lovingly made!

Eating a frozen dinner or some sickly meal in a restaurant, prepared impersonally by machines or an anonymous chef fundamentally disconnects the person eating from the process of labor and love that brought the food to the table, disconnects him from the land where the food was grown and the lives of the animals he eats. It disconnects us from the risks posed by pollution and pesticides, from the inhumanity of corporate animal farms and the bestial practice of forcing animals to become cannibals. It disconnects us fundamentally from the physicality of our world, making the source of our lives an abstraction of dollars and cents instead of the good earth. When you bake bread, you cannot but help to think of the grain grown in the fields and milled between stones. When you roast a chicken, you see the fruits of life, the muscle and the fat, and think about the life of that bird and recognize the sacrifice that was made. Of course, if you choose to hunt or to raise your own livestock, you are even more fully connected to the process of your own life, and what it costs the world.

When we mechanize the production of food, we take a great risk: by disconnecting our idea of the self from the land that provides for us, it becomes easy to disregard our environment and to make choices that ultimately diminish the quality of life for all.


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