“Cooking is one of the strongest ceremonies for life. When recipes are put together, the kitchen is a chemical laboratory involving air, fire, water and the earth. This is what gives value to humans and elevates their spiritual qualities. If you take a frozen box and stick it in the microwave, you become connected to the factory.” Laura Esquivel
Renowned author and culinary aficionado Michael Pollan identifies key questions regarding our engagement with the world:
- What is the single most important thing we could do as a family to improve our health and general well-being?
- What is the most important thing an ordinary person can do to help reform the food system, to make it healthier and more sustainable?
- How can people living in a highly specialised consumer economy reduce their sense of dependence and achieve a greater sense of self-sufficiency?
- How, in our everyday lives, can we acquire a deeper understanding of the natural world and our species’ peculiar role in it?
The answer, he suggests, could be simply returning to the kitchen, and to cooking.
More than ever, we live in a time-pressured culture awash with sugar, cheap grains, and heavily processed food, and because of our hectic schedules have readily ‘outsourced’ our culinary skills to corporations. The less you cook, the more ‘edible food-like substances’ – processed food – you’ll eat. Such products have no place in a thinking person’s diet, so we simply must get back in touch with real food by reinvigorating our passion for cooking.
As Pollan observes, “we always find time for the things we value—and we’ve come to devalue cooking”. Many see it as a chore, and viewed as such never consider it to be the wonderfully creative act it is; nourishing those most precious to us while reinforcing familial solidarity – the most precious of benefits in today’s atomised culture.
Cooking as Artistic Pursuit
“Cooking is like painting or writing a song. Just as there are only so many notes or colours, there are only so many flavours – it’s how you combine them that sets you apart” Wolfgang Puck
The antidote to the stultifying nature of consumer culture is the act of creation. To start with nothing, then create something, whether it’s writing a poem, a piece of music, painting a picture, sculpting a vase, or cooking a meal, endow upon the creator an ineffable sublimity. The creation itself doesn’t have to be of any particular high standard; it is the act of creation itself, especially that of a meal, which is its own reward.
Enjoy the process, from choosing fresh produce at the markets to chopping fresh herbs, take a moment to breathe in the fragrances (remember, wars have been fought over the spices we now take for granted), and put some care and love into the meals you prepare. Cooking, like painting or creative writing, allows you a glimpse of the sublime when approached with such a mindset.
“Everyone has to eat. All cooking that aims higher than a boiled egg is an attempt to make an art of a necessity. In this sense, it is surely the first art that human beings ever attempted. And it’s still the most universal” Jonathon Jones
Proactive and Reactive Eaters
The choice of the how we nourish our brains and bodies is the most important decision we make each day. To repeatedly make such a decision based upon expediency, and not its healthful potentiality, could be argued, is a form of pathology: CCD – chronic careless disorganisation. If you’ve ever run out the door with a piece of toast hanging out of your mouth you can relate.
We need to become ‘proactive eaters’: planned and prepared, not ‘reactive eaters’: unplanned and susceptible. Unplanned reactive eating, born of CCD, is one of the most common issues in weight loss clients I encounter. It’s a mistake that many of us make, and one that is openly supported and encouraged by food corporations and marketers eager to profit from our poverty of culinary skill.
When you consider the tremendous cost of not cooking (a nosedive in health and cellular function, less energy, sleep problems, concentration issues, brain fog, unexplained headaches, mid-afternoon sleepiness, increase in body fat, accelerated ageing etc.) it’s clear we need to make a little more time for it. And as Pollan observes, “when you realise how pleasurable it can be, approached in the right spirit, you might just begin to devote some of your leisure to it.”
Think Nationally, Act Locally
To the extent that people are willing to cook for themselves, it will allow diversification and localisation of agriculture to expand. In a very real way, by choosing processed food and inferior quality produce from large supermarkets we are helping to ensure the domination of our agriculture by giant monocultures of grain and animal factories. Enormous companies only buy from big farms, and such farms provide a bulwark against the effort to diversify and localise agriculture.
Buying Produce and Cooking as a Political Act
In many ways, reforming Australian agriculture into one more locally based and less reliant on mega agribusiness depends on rebuilding a culture of support for local food markets and home cooking. The choices you make regarding how you feed yourself and your family have far-reaching consequences. Such choices will affect the way in which our society will evolve, the quality of our environment and its ability to provide the natural framework for a diversified agriculture to flourish, and crucially, our sense of how our eating connects us to the world.
Many of us have lost touch with the physical processes and the beauty involved in the transformation of nature’s gifts into a cooked meal – and this has altered our understanding of what food is.
Food has a deep connection to human creativity, it bonds the family unit together spiritually, it sculpts our bodies and builds our brains; it makes us who we are. It should not come pre-made in a package, fully formed. Food is not just another commodity, it is a profound part of what connects us to each other, and the process of its preparation is a big part of what makes us human.
J.A. Gleeson is a Personal Trainer at Tribe Social Fitness, Sutherland Shire, Sydney.