Monday, December 04, 2006

Be Nourished

I wonder if it's a uniquely American thing to have such a love-hate relationship with food. Americans, in general, are so easily satisfied with cheap food, fast food, junk food and so disconnected from real food, slow food, good food. Obsessed with being thin, so often overweight, and always in search of the perfect 5-minute meal.

We have been on a food journey for the last several years. A few years after Mane was born we started eating almost entirely organic. The difference is huge. Everything tastes better. We eat whole grains ...better for the body and more filling. It's partly an environmental mission, both the external environment of the world and the internal environments of our bodies. It's also an economic mission, supporting organic farmers, fair trade, small farms. It's an economic sacrifice for us, in hopes that it will bring about change in the larger community. A perk is shopping at the co-op, which always smells great and is small enough for me to let Mane walk around. People know us there. One of the clerks has a son Mane's age. We were pregnant at the same time.

As most in the organic foods community can tell you, convenience foods are still available to the organic consumer. Mac and cheese still exists, as do canned soups, microwave dinners, and french fries. Organic doesn't necessarily mean healthy, and it doesn't mean that we've slowed down and learned anything about food.

This is something we've learned from Vespera. Really good food is a process. The time we sacrifice for good food is repaid in something more nourishing than flavor. Caldo is a good example. Boil and season the chicken, chop and add veggies, taste, adjust the seasoning. Chop more veggies to serve cold over the top, lime wedges, avocados, cabbage, tomatoes, peppers, onions. Warm the tortillas. Serve in big bowls, everyone gathered around slicing their avocados, squeezing the limes, dipping tortillas. It's a ritual. It is not eat-and-run. It isn't a perfect 5-minute meal. It is nourishment. Body and soul.

If you ask Vespera, food doesn't taste as good if it isn't home-cooked. If the lingering smell of it doesn't fill the house. Partly, the food is better for the anticipation. You will soak and blend and strain and boil the chilis, and you will wait gladly when you know that mole is in the making. Though your stomach growls, you will not demand a simpler meal. You know what you are waiting for. You can do your homework better knowing mole is on the way.

And when we all come to the table and perform the ritual of dishing the plates, slicing the tomatoes over the top, crumbling cheese and spooning cream, we are nourished, knowing that our food is slow and real. There's something in the familiarity, once you know how it's done, that feels like home and comfort.

Being American, I had no idea how important food could be. And, I think, that somewhat strained relationship Americans have with food makes us hesitate to love food. Loving food is associated with obesity. It means you like to eat a lot. Loving food in other cultures, though, has a lot more to do with quality, ritual, familiarity. It means that sometimes you eat a lot, but, often, just a little is satisfying. And the look on Vespera's face when I get her family's timeless recipes right is worth every single priceless minute I spend in the kitchen.

It isn't that I love to cook, though sometimes I really do. It's that there's something in the process that is so much more rewarding than quick food.

I laugh, too, when I think of a saying I once heard and heartily agreed with. I heard that we should eat 90% for nourishment and 10% for pleasure, or something like that...meaning that we are too focused on dessert, and we need to learn to eat foods that are better for us, even though it isn't fun. I think this attitude of denial is why obesity is so rampant. I want to tell people that it's ok to love food. Find a way to cook it that makes it so good you can hardly stand it. That's going to take time. It's going to be slow food. But it is going to be worth it.

You will be nourished.

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