There is a kind of sorcery in cooking, a magical alchemy in choosing ingredients, in coaxing each nuance of flavor from the foods we prepare. The sensuality of cooking overwhelms my senses. Water sluices over my hands as I wash vegetables, caressing their smooth skin, gently cleansing them. I stir simmering pots, steam rising, sweat beading on my skin, leaving it moist, slightly salty. I spoon finished recipes onto platters and into bowls, pasta mounded, fragrant with the heady scents of fresh herbs. I delight in delicately cooked vegetable stews, soups that warm as cozily as a down quilt, seemingly modest grains, lustily silky under their neutral appearance; crisp, vital salads, dance on my tongue, lush with the passion of the season, succulent fruits, juice spurting, dribbling down my chin, through my fingers, over my wrist, demanding to be kissed away.
I move from task to task, completely engaged in the foreplay of preparation. I am intoxicated with the scents and aromas of a meal coming together. I whisk sauces to lusty, smooth perfection. I saute, simmer and stir dishes to their sensual climax, occasionally brushing a sweat-dampened tendril of hair from my cheek. I am lost to the passion of creation when I cook.
Are you thinking that this doesn't sound like your experience in the kitchen--or your experience of food? Are you thinking that this certainly doesn't sound like the experience you would expect when envisioning natural foods? I know. Too bad...because this is life in the kitchen...when life in the kitchen is lived with understanding and sensual abandon.
Cooking is an art form being rapidly lost in this country. Whether preparing prime rib or tofu, your love of the kitchen determines whether or not your meals are delicious or pedestrian, sublime or just a way to feed yourself.
Eating, like cooking, has become a chore for us, another hassle to be endured at the end of a long, frenetic day. We can barely stand the thought of it...and all that it entails. In a way, it's not our fault. We try so hard to have fun. We try to do it all the right way--we work hard, dutifully keep our journals, meditate because it's good for us, exercise, sweat and toil at life because we believe that we can have it all. Seems like a lot of work to be happy and healthy, doesn't it?
Lost in the shuffle of life are the acts of nourishing ourselves, better known as cooking and eating. Lost in the shuffle of life is the simple pleasure of preparing the food that is responsible for our lives, loves and behavior in the world. Can you imagine anything sweeter or more satisfying than your beloved ones gathered around a table, enjoying a delicious meal that you prepared for them? Can you imagine anything lonelier than eating drive-thru in the isolation of your car? The way we regard food, from its purchase to the served meal influences the way we feel about the art of nourishment.
With the passion and sensuality of cooking comes responsibility. The capacity to nourish doesn't give us the freedom to squander the gifts of nature, our health, our community. Cooking is a divine art in which we create life. To leave behind destruction is to fly in the face of the divine that lives in us.
All of this may sound high-minded and esoteric, but each of us carries a small burden. Each of us must remind ourselves that we are woven into the web of life. We are not, in fact, the weavers of it. Humans have the unique gift of being able to create what we visualize. Dogs don't build bridges. Cats don't plan cities. If we can imagine it, we can manifest it. And it seems that the more we create, the more enchanted with ourselves we become. The more enchanted with ourselves we become, the more arrogant we become. The more arrogant we become, the more we think that we control life and nature. We forget that we live by nature's rules; nature doesn't live by ours. When we ignore nature's rules, she begins to suffer at our hands...and we, at hers.
Which makes our choices important. For me, the choice is to live my life as a vegan, eating no animal products at all. I also choose to eat no simple sugars, chemicals, additives or preservatives, processed or canned foods...as much for my health as for the health of the environment...they create pollution, rubbish and toxins. But that's me and as much as I would love to see the world embrace a vegetarian diet, I live in reality. I know that many people choose to eat animal products; some even feel as though they need it to survive with strength and vitality. It's not my job or my desire to judge, preach or to try to convert anyone. My responsibility is to live life the best way I know, based on my experiences and my truth...and to try and do no harm.
To really develop a passion for food and an appreciation for its impact on our life and health, you must cook. Sorry. I know; I know; we're all so busy. And I'm asking you to go back into the kitchen, work up a sweat, get your hands dirty and cook. I'm asking that you reprioritize your life and make the space you need to nourish yourself and those you love. I'm asking you to skip some of your ever-important extra-curricular activities and go home and prepare a meal. Not a popular stance, I'm told, but one that can change your life.
You must be wondering why I put such emphasis on getting back in the kitchen. Every aspect of our lives is affected by what we choose to eat. The food we choose determines how we look, how we feel, how we act and react on a daily basis. Sure, there are other influences that contribute to who we are, but food is the foundation upon which we build the rest of our lives.
When we cook for ourselves, we decide how we'll feel every day. We decide how we'll behave, how we'll handle stress, how we'll interact with our families and friends. The kind of food we choose and prepare is the fuel that operates us. Think about it. We put superior petrol in our cars so they'll run smoothly. But we think we can subsist on drive-thru. Make sense? Not to me.
But we're busy. How do we return to the kitchen in a society that looks down its nose at the kitchen...unless of course, you're a celebrity chef, whose social status has grown akin to rock star? I think that it's time that we see food and its preparation as something sacred and sensual. It's how we create life every day. Sure, it's hard work and we'll sweat and toil at it. But the payoff is just amazing. Imagine feeling strong and vital most of the time, happy and at peace, clear-minded and grounded, joyful at the thought of life. Can all this come from cooking? All this and more.
The ritual of coming together and breaking bread together was once the foundation of community...and remains so today. At the table, values are taught and senses heightened to the delight of the sensual experience of eating.
We are beginning to understand that our food choices help to create the future...and its quality. Will we create a future of chemical poisoning that destroys human and planetary health or one of sustainable, natural living? We decide with every purchase.
At the table, we reap the reward of family living. Humanistic values are learned, more than anywhere else, at the dinner table. Eating together passes on the ideas of courtesy, kindness, sharing, thrift, respect, reverence and gratitude. The shared meal is the core of civilized being, cultivating a capacity for thoughtfulness.
In modern America, over 50 percent of families no longer share meals together on a regular basis. With the advent of frozen dinners, instant food, drive-thru, take-away and our growing need to be active and away from the home, sharing meals has dropped dramatically on our list of essentials.
Speed dishonors our food and us, replacing quality and joy with quantity and lack of sensitivity. It's time to recover and rediscover the joys of the shared meal, to embrace the seduction of the richness of the aromas of a food-scented kitchen. Fast food and all that it embodies threatens the fabric of our lives and well-being, poisons the environment and robs us of our health and our future.
One last thing you should know. Are the acts of cooking and eating in more work? Will you cook more and spend more time in the kitchen? Will you shop more frequently and stock your pantry more fully? Yes...to all. Will it be worth that extra effort? Yes...completely.