Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: An excerpt

As I mentioned earlier, I'm reading Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, about the year she and her family spent eating food raised and grown themselves, or by farmers very near their home in Virginia.

This passage--on why eating what you cook is such a different (and better) experience than eating pre-made food--struck me on many levels, so I thought I'd share.
A lot of human hobbies, from knitting sweaters to building model airplanes, are probably rooted in the same human desire to control an entire process of manufacture. Karl Marx called it the antidote to alienation. Modern business psychologists generally agree, noting that workers will build a better car when they participate in the whole assembly rather than just slapping on one bold, over and over, all the tedious livelong day. In the case of modern food, our single-bolt job has become the boring act of poking the thing in our mouths, with no feeling for any other stage in the process. It's a pretty obvious consequence that one should care little about the product. When I ponder the question of why Americans eat so much bad food on purpose, this is my best guess: alimentary alienation. We can't feel how or why it hurts. We're dying for an antidote.

It's why eating the tomatoes on my plants is cause for celebration. I mean, we seriously treat them like pieces of gold. We don't want to "waste them" on just any old salad (or person, truth-be-told). They deserve fresh mozzarella and beautiful basil, also plucked from the tomato pots. We eat them with reverence.

It's why, when someone actually bakes you a cake for your birthday, instead of grabbing one from QFC, it almost makes you cry.

We're losing this. It's no wonder we stuff our mouths without taking time to taste. We have no connection to our food.

Kingsolver's daughter writes short pieces in the book, and one of her most startling perspectives is a true, honest and tangible appreciation of the foods she eats. It's a result of working the fields, staying up all night picking cherries (before the birds get them), watching how bread gets made.

My mom told me today she thought that my feeding Ruby from the table "seemed like too much work." It makes her uncomfortable to think I've yet to open a jar of "baby food." I tried to explain that the idea of "baby food" is rather new, and mostly a product of big-budget marketing. I said I didn't think Ruby should learn that chicken noodle soup has the same texture (and smell) as yams. It doesn't, and it shouldn't.

But I understand where she's coming from because I grew up in her home. This is how she thinks. And, hey, it's not like this isn't how most of my neighbors think about cooking nowadays too. Why bother with all that cutting? Stir-fry comes in a bag in the freezer section! But for me, cooking is a pleasure, and cooking for Ruby and Ed and myself is something I take pride in.

Kingsolver says it better:
"Cooking without remuneration" and "slaving over a hot stove" are activities separated mostly by frame of mind. ...Approaching mealtimes as a creative opportunity, rather than a chore, is an option.

RELATED: Good read on Ruhlman


Jane said...

You are awesome for making Ruby stuff from scratch. She is so lucky!

Ali Scheff said...

Thanks Jane! If you've seen or smelled some of the "baby food" concoctions on the shelves (of which 7-outta-10 smell like tuna) you'd see I really have no choice.