The Pleasures of Eating: A Rant
June 7, 2015
Eating engages our senses. It releases emotions. It is an art, which all too often we take for granted. We shovel and swallow, rather than savor our food. I am guilty. I too shoveled and swallowed food until I realized how much pleasure I derived in connecting with the very things that made me feel good.
In the last few years I’ve gone back to basics, wanting to undress every dish right down to its core, realizing how much I’d been relying on sauces to get that “perfect” flavor. I have unlearned everything I’ve learned, approaching my craft with a desire to connect intimately with each and every ingredient on my plate, celebrating the source, and the relationship between farmer and nature.
I’ve started using different words to describe what food means to me. I think seasonally when selecting my ingredients and cooking techniques, and it all comes down to this…
It’s not so much that the strawberry lacks flavor, but that it offers something other than what I imagine in the moment. The strawberry isn’t wrong. I am in expecting it to be something different and as a result being disappointed. The strawberry is perfect as is, just as I am. I accept it for what it is, enjoying its tart flavor, rather than the sweet one ingrained in my memory. I am surrendering to this beautiful red, heart-shaped fruit. I don’t want to change it, but celebrate it instead. My instinct in the past might have been to sprinkle it with sugar and let it macerate until it bled its natural juices, breaking down its crisp texture. Today I just want to drizzle it lightly with balsamic vinegar, or red wine, perhaps coaxing out its natural sugars with a light sprinkling of sea salt as I might for tomatoes. I want to taste its tart juice and as much sweetness as it wants to give me, enhancing rather than masking it so that I can inhale its very essence. And sometimes I just want to eat it off the plant, as is.
We are programmed to eat a certain way, to expect certain things, and we have a hard time breaking down these habits formed from memory. We want to “fix” and make “better,” but who are we to mess with nature? How arrogant are we to think that we can change what’s in front of us, rather than change our perception and appreciate what we have. Could it be that Spring strawberries were never meant to be as sweet as Summer strawberries, the sun penetrating each seasonal crop differently? That seems logical to me. Spring strawberries are tart and Summer into Fall strawberries are sweet; and in those two statements are variations on the theme depending on varietal, climate, region, and soil.
If we just looked at that cucumber and bit into it, would we enjoy its thirst quenching quality from its slightly bitter waxy skin right down to its sweet juicy flesh? Sure it’s delicious dipped in a creamy concoction or grated into yogurt with a touch of garlic. In fact I love it that way, but I also appreciate it and find it just as delicious sliced to flavor water on a hot day.
I find that tomatoes—green, red, orange, yellow, purple, brown—all have different textures and levels of sweetness and tanginess. It’s not that the sweet tomato is more delicious than that tart one, or that the tender one is more pleasing than the firm one. After all we love juicy firm, crisp sour apples in the Fall. Why couldn’t we enjoy a tomato that is firm and crisp, all the while juicy and perhaps more tart than sweet? Nature gifts us with variety of food in different shapes, sizes, colors, textures, and flavors to experience and enjoy daily. Do you see where I’m going with this?
My journey through food continues to be one of acceptance, dedication, fascination, discovery, openness, surrender… and love of self and others.