Okay, okay – I know I promised to do another controversial post on GMO’s, but let me interrupt that string with some thoughts that have hit me as I’ve delved deeply into researching local food, sustainability, and food solutions.
While my roommates were studying hard for exams and writing papers during the first part of dead week, I had a couple of nights of relief before my only final. So I picked up my Bon Appétit magazine and went grocery shopping. I came home with chickpeas, tomatoes, eggs, peppers and feta cheese and I prepared shakshuka, an Israeli dish characterized by poached eggs and chickpeas in a tomato sauce. My roommates said it was the best dish I’d ever made. I attribute most of their praise to their taste buds, deadened by several straight weeks of Spaghetti-O’s and miniature corn dogs, but the meal was pretty good….
After cooking, I began thinking of the Food Studies Project and other academically-focused food groups. It came to my attention that we often get so invested in the political, cultural, and ethical aspects of food, that we forget to really sit down and taste what we are eating and savor the food that nourishes and energizes our bodies. When was the last time you felt the enjoyment of cooking your own food and eating the product of your labor? When did you eat something that you enjoyed simply for the pleasure of enjoying it?
I’ll be the first to admit that food is an integral component of culture, politics, and economics. There are serious questions to be asked and answered. Are GM foods harming human beings? What is industrial agriculture doing to the environment? How do we feed the 7 billion humans that inhabit our earth?
But what’s the point of attempting to answer these questions if the food itself has become uninspiring? If eating loses its appeal because it has been so complicated by the modern discourse surrounding food issues, why bother? When we begin to think of food merely as a means to some certain political end or as the number of calories it takes to lose (or gain) a pound, we destroy an important aspect of food. The pleasure humans are afforded by the cooking, baking, sautéing, whipping, buying, slicing, frying, and presenting of food is lost.
As the semester winds downs and you find yourself with a little more free time (hopefully!), let me leave you with some homework.
Plan a meal one night. Try something you’ve never eaten before, or dig out your favorite tried-and-true comfort food recipe. Buy groceries. At the farmer’s market, at H-E-B, at Whole Foods. It doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive (but it can be). Cook the food at home. Do it alone, or with a friend. Both are rewarding. Spend hours in the kitchen with reductions, Escoffier-style sauces, and elaborate presentations, or microwave your vegetables (the healthiest method of preparing veggies, according to Harold Mcgee) and quickly sear a cut of your favorite fish in olive oil.
For those of you with kitchen-phobia, treat yourself to dinner at that place you always wanted to try, but haven’t gotten around to it. Venture in to a restaurant that makes you uncomfortable, or cozy up into a booth at the beloved Kirbey Lane for a late-night stack of pancakes.
Now, sit down with yourself, your roommate, your friends, and – this is important – don’t talk about food, except for the finished meal in front of you. Don’t plug the local farm where you bought your kale, and let your defense of veganism escape you for a few hours. Eat slowly, and really savor. Rediscover your taste buds. You might find that a new dish excites your palate or that an old recipe has more depth than you gave it credit for. You also might find that cow tongue is just not your thing, or that same old recipe that you used to love is actually pretty bland and one-dimensional. The important thing is that you’re tasting.
Then, when you’re done eating, sleep on the experience. Put off those important food issues that you’re studying until tomorrow when your body will be renewed and your mind, open. Allow the experience to influence your work. Before you make an ethical, political, economic, or cultural recommendation, remember how food affected you and how it could affect the lives of others.
If you decide to shoulder this extra “homework” during the holidays, here are a list of local-area food blogs to get you started:
I’d love to hear about it if you decide to make a night out of eating… Comment or email me with your experiences and what you learned (if anything). Or just leave me with a recipe to try in my own kitchen, or a restaurant that I have to try.