Monday, December 31, 2007

Food For Thought

"When the stomach is full, it is easy to talk of fasting."
Saint Jerome

I've never known a hungry day in my life. I don't know what it is to suffer under the weight of concern regarding the source of my next meal. I don't worry about seeing tight skin pulled over bones when I look at my family. I have never gripped the stock of my gun with white knuckles as I anxiously wait for an animal to come into view or when a random sound in the dark could be that of a thief taking my last two pounds of chicken. I thought of this today when, for the first time in a long time, I was prepared something to eat that I didn't particularly like. As a grown-up, this doesn't happen as often as when one is a child. As a child, everything is new and novel and other-worldly. And, it is also out of your control: you get what you get and that is it. I recall my early reactions to such things as sweet potatoes, broccoli, beets, Brussels Sprouts and so much more. Today, I give them not a thought as I send them off to their appointed task: keeping me alive.

As I considered the meal, I wondered if I would eat it with more gusto if I had no ability to taste (like Bart Simpson's Aunt Selma, who lost her ability to smell and taste after a freak bottle rocket accident). But, I quickly remembered that the tongue/olfactory partnership also had a greater calling: to prevent my death. If it smelled bad to me, it was likely due to something wrong with the food. I often forget that fact even when I see the family dog gorging himself at the compost heap after chasing away a murder of crows for the privilege. The tongue is a wondrous thing. It can taste, feel textures and often act independent of and in spite of our brains. But few remember that it can save our lives as well. So, why the hell was I thinking this when sitting in front of a freshly created lunch? Was I that desperate for an excuse to pass on the repast? Hey, I'm the daddy... I do whatever the hell I want. I can just say, "No, thank you" and be done with it. So, what is the deal?

Do I have point and, if so, can I please get to it?

Imagine, if you will, what you will be doing tonight if you are the person charged with creating the meal. Even if you are not that person, try to imagine it anyway, for my sake. You likely come home, change into more relaxing clothes, open the refrigerator and take stock of what is illuminated by a 40 watt bulb. Some prefer lists and automatically know that there will be meatloaf tonight because it is Tuesday (shouldn't meatloaf be served on Monday just for the alliterative value?). Regardless, with Oprah in the background and a glass of Chablis by your side, you concoct your cuisine and manage the meal's multiple members with a deftness that inspires aloofness. Not, not all of you are like this and not all of the time, but I'd likely say many of you are and quite often. I say that because I venture to guess that a large percentage of us don't even bother with the fabrication of the meal beyond the time it takes to remove the polysomething skin from the vessel containing the Frankenstein's monster we call "dinner" and prepare to reanimate it through the infusion of radiation. "Give my Salisbury Steak LIFE!"

Have I gotten to the point yet? Ummm... no. I'm trying.

Imagine now that you are in a small, hand-built cabin in the middle of a cold and snowy plain. The temperature evokes stress analogous to a pack of sixteen year-old boys crossing over to your side of the dark, empty streets at 2:00 A.M.. You don't really have a refrigerator since you don't have electricity. You don't have Oprah to keep you company nor Chablis to dull the senses that scream at you after another day spent doing things that are dehumanizing or vapid. All you have are a few vegetables of questionable quality, a can with some oil, flour that you hope has not been raided by the furry, unwanted guest in your home and a small amount of meat left from a steer you raised from its birth. In this moment, you are not distracted by the plethora of provender possibilities. You don't linger over the cool air wafting from the top door of the Kenmore as you struggle to read through the slightly frosted boxes marked "Lean Cuisine". What you do is pray to god almighty that you don't fuck up this meal because there is no fallback plan. You will be totally present in those ensuing moments when the knife sinks into skins and husks and shells. You will estimate every micron of useful ingredient, carefully measure your steps and movements, check and recheck your temperatures and surfaces, observe progress with the eye of a mother of a newborn and ensure that all that needs to be done is, in fact, done at the appointed time. This isn't making diner. This is ensuring that your family will not die. This is loving them with the greatest give we can give. This is why people say blessings before a meal.

So, even when I sat down to the meal and gladly turned off the cheerful lady on the Food Network who just can't seem to stop shoving her cleavage into my face, I realized that food isn't just art and science and the reason for a 24 hour channel and book tours and celebrity cruises. No. It is life and should be taken seriously. No, I don't think for one moment that it shouldn't be enjoyed or cherished. I don't think that there should necessarily be a ritual. If you like Ben and Jerry's, you eat it. If you dig Hot Pockets, my blessing on you. But what I am saying is that when you take a bite and find it isn't to your liking, you may consider trying to eat it anyway. Short of it being stale, fetid, or moldy, I'd say practice eating something that you don't like simply because it might be a skill you'll need in the not-too-distant-future: A likely near future when the ships slow down over the winter and stop delivering Chilean grapes and Israeli oranges and Mexican kale. This will be the point at which food isn't a substitute for love or your drug of choice; it will again regain its position as that which stands between you and death.

So, as I looked down at the jazzed up chicken salad, all these thoughts flashed through my mind in less time than it took to spoon the goop onto a slice of toasted whole grain bread. And, as I saw the variety of cheeses and beautifully sliced apple that stood in the wings as understudies, I realized that I had the right not to like what I was eating, but I wasn't sure if I had the right not to eat it. I honestly did think of the starving children in whichever country today's moms use to heap on guilt at dinner time. I thought of all the people required to create this meal from around the globe. I thought of all the energy it took to plant, grow, maintain, harvest, prepare, ship, stock, purchase, deliver and cook. I thought that the last one hundred years of cheap oil hasn't only caused our population and average weights to increase exponentially, it also caused our souls to become smaller. And, I thought that I may not always have the luxury of voluntarily eating a meal that didn't appeal to me. In the interest of full disclosure, dear reader, this blog entry was created using the energy from an unappetizing chicken salad. I can't recall the last time I was so thankful.

So, my point is... I have no idea. I guess I'm still a bit logy from digestion.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe you'll find you'll develop a taste for your wife's crazy chicken salad, but only after you've had it a few times.

January 01, 2008 1:42 AM  
Blogger Ian said...

I've been forced to eat a lot of very sketchy things in the course of my life, but rarely was I thankful for them...

However, I am left with a sense of pride for having been inventive enough to make that rotten chicken edible, tough enough to brush off a case of salmonella that would cripple most people and procure 40lbs of corn dogs for under $10 as well as my ability to beg borrow steal and trick my way into acquiring food.

My situation has left me uniquely equipped to deal with what is coming... and I suppose I feel sorry for those it has not...

But I guess what I want to say is that the picture you paint in a world of scarcity and self dependence, when it existed in the past was not so bleak, but really, more often than not, colorful and fun, and warm and cheerful. My mother's family lived on a farmstead and still used an outhouse until the 70s and her stories from youth, which by a modern person today's standard would be a survival tale, are perhaps the most colorful and wonderfully happy images of any of the stories I've heard.

Don't be thankful, be proud.

Glad to see another post Frank, take care.


January 17, 2008 1:57 AM  

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