“The shared meal is no small thing. It is a foundation of family life, the place where our children learn the art of conversation and acquire the habits of civilization: sharing, listening, taking turns, navigating differences, arguing without offending. What have been called the “cultural contradictions of capitalism”—its tendency to undermine the stabilizing social forms it depends on—are on vivid display today at the modern American dinner table, along with all the brightly colored packages that the food industry has managed to plant there.” ~ Michael Pollan, Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation.
“Well, in a world where so few of us are obliged to cook at all anymore, to choose to do so is to lodge a protest against specialization—against the total rationalization of life. Against the infiltration of commercial interests into every last cranny of our lives. To cook for the pleasure of it, to devote a portion of our leisure to it, is to declare our independence from the corporations seeking to organize our every waking moment into yet another occasion for consumption… It is to reject the debilitating notion that, at least while we’re at home, production is work best done by someone else, and the only legitimate form of leisure is consumption. This dependence marketers call “freedom.” ~ Michael Pollan, Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation.
Is cooking a lost art form? You’d think NOT with the variety of cooking shows out there. Before the Food Network, Travel Channel,The Chew, etc. we’d watch Julia Child, on PBS, concocting French cuisine in her halting, endearing way. These days people watch cooking shows, but do they actually get motivated to get in their kitchens and make a home-cooked meal? Sadly, I think not.
It used to be that we had to cook to feed ourselves, as well as our families. But with the advent of food science and fast food we now have a conglomeration of food choices; all requiring a lot less of our time and effort. Thus, just a little more than half of Americans sit together at dinner around a home cooked meal, “made from scratch.” These days we can run into our supermarket, buy a bag of pre-chopped vegetables and poof! Instant meal. The days of tears streaming down our faces, as we chop onions, are vanishing. Throwing a bag of pre-washed, assorted salad greens, doused with dressing does NOT a home-cooked meal; make.
Just last night our family made the choice to eat fast food. But these days we are much more discerning of our choices and where to spend our hard- earned dollars. The hubs always makes it a point to use his YELP app before we experience an establishment. He’ll ask the person working the counter/register if he/she is the owner. Our family chooses to support small, local food establishments who utilize fresh ingredients or believe in the Slow Food movement. This is an oxymoron in fast food where things are supposed to be, well, fast, but this particular joint receives fresh baked bread; daily, from a local artisan. The fries can be identified as potatoes and the chef’s choice of a jalapeno Philly cheese steak (something I normally WOULD NOT choose) was umami (aka delicious). The owner was working the counter; remembering my hubs and children from 2 months prior. This was the second location he had opened; which struggles. He explained how the Yelp reviewers categorized the price range of his place as $$ after he had to raise his prices. With the cost of fresh, artisan bread, and local produce he was giving away his sandwiches and not making a profit. The hubs happily forked over the cost, and ordered extra, to-go, for the next day to show his support; his patronage. It’s all about quality and customer service. When you have these things; cost does not become the limiting factor.
I found myself reading aloud to the hubs, on the couch, last evening from Michael Pollan’s book, Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation. I had only wanted to read the above quote about cooking, for leisure, versus necessity. We both laughed since he enjoys cooking and will toil for hours over a meal. I cook out of necessity. I do not take great joy in the slow process of watching yeast rise. I don’t mind producing meals but I prefer expediency and efficiency in their creation. Patience is not my strongest suit; particularly when I have hungry mouths to feed. An hour and a half later, with a hoarse voice and two other sons listening; I finally had to call it a night. I had just been reminiscing about reading bedtime stories to my kids. I guess that ritual still continues…
Cooking is universal and brings families, as well as cultures together. What we eat defines who we are and what group we belong to: kosher, hallal, vegetarian. The first quote, above, truly describes our nightly dinner as our three sons lament portion sizes, I wanted that piece, why does HE always get the bigger piece?, compete for sound bites, Do you know what blah, blah, blah did today? and social graces, That’s gross. We can see what’s in your mouth while you’re eating. We eat family style. There are no brightly colored boxes sitting upon our table. Even cereal, in the mornings, is at bare minimum; everything really just being processed corn and high fructose corn syrup. We do not sit in front of TVs; nor do we have any sounds playing in the background if it is just our family of five. The dinner meal is our time to bond; even if it is amongst yelling (adults and kids alike). Each hump day our extended family meets for a communal meal; just because.
In sharing these meals, one has to cook them. Thus, our family has found a renewed interest in cooking. Several members are diabetic and the Internet has been a boon in creating healthier meals that look, as well as taste, great. We’ve learned to try new spices and techniques but, more importantly, are reminded of the importance of eating together, as a family. It is time consuming. It is slow. It requires work and preparation. These memories; the ones associated with smells, and tastes…Grandma’s tacos, aunt Mary’s cakes, Dad’s bread, are what we carry with us throughout our lives. Forever.
And much as I try to fight technology, it eventually grabs me. I’ve avoided the hash tags forever. When I asked the hubs WHY the # symbol I got a long explanation about IRC, channels, etc. I drew the line when the hub’s discourse turned to ampersands (&). After breaking the code down I realized #s were ways computer programmers would search for key words; rooms within a chat room. We are STILL in contact with #BLUE EYES, a fellow chat room friend the hubs communicated with in the late 90s. Chat rooms became replaced with social media: Facebook, Instagram, Goodreads. We can now see what Blue Eyes is doing in her part of the country; particularly during college football season when she cheers on her Hokies or does bowling tournaments with her kids.
And so the work day goes long…
…as I watch my eldest holding a shiny, green Japanese beetle bug on a string; much like his father did as a child. He’d sell these “bugs on a string” for 10 cents. You can barely see the trace of the string as the poor, exhausted bug, rested on the kid’s forehead. One more hour to go.