Friday, July 22, 2005

Life as art, cooking as life

I wish I had written this article in today’s Times:
I apologize in advance to anyone who has trouble getting to the original. You do have to register to get New York Time articles, and in a couple of days it will have left free status.

I couldn’t agree more. I love my garden and I love good, fresh, healthy food. I love the living art of cooking, and the loving art of feeding people. And like Julie Powell, I hate it when people claim their own choices are the only right and virtuous ones. In rejecting the claims that the fresh food movement is an ethical choice that we should all embrace regardless of what other choices might be crowded out, she points out,
The first and most dangerous aspect is the temptation of economic elitism….What makes the snobbery of the organic movement more insidious [than the garden variety snobbery of a Brillat-Savarin] is that it equates privilege not only with good taste, but also with good ethics. Eat wild Brazil nuts and save the rainforest. Buy more expensive organic fruit for your children and fight the national epidemic of childhood obesity. Support a local farmer and give economic power to responsible stewards of sustainable agriculture. There's nothing wrong with any of these choices, but they do require time and money.

When you wed money to decency, you come perilously close to equating penury with immorality. The milk at Whole Foods is hormone-free; the milk at Western Beef is presumably full of the stuff - and substantially less expensive. The chicken at Whole Foods is organic and cage-free; the chicken at Western Beef is not. Is the woman who buys her children's food at the place where they take her food stamps therefore a bad mother?....

With his gastronomic tests, Brillat-Savarin sought to find others like himself, of whatever economic status, who truly enjoyed food. It's easy to do the same today, but the method isn't to assume that everyone at Whole Foods is wise and everyone at the Western Beef benighted.

Instead, look in their carts. Some shop at Western Beef for nothing more than diet cola and frozen bagels; some at Whole Foods for premade sushi and overdesigned bottles of green tea. These people have much in common. So, too, do the professorial types poring over the sweet corn and dewy blueberries at the greenmarket and the Honduran family at the discount grocery, piling their cart high with rice and dried beans and canned tomatoes and all the other stuff you need to make something out of nothing much.

Whatever economic status each of us elects or has thrust upon us, there are so many things we can enjoy. Happiness is a choice, at least in the sense we can try to organize our lives to have as much as possible available of what we really, truly want. I want space, light, peace, calm, good food, good friends (including dog friends), work that has meaning, and the time to enjoy writing, gardening, and a variety of fiber arts and home renovation projects. I view my life as my own best work of art, and cooking is one major strand of it. Or as Julie Powell puts it:
Cooking is one of the few actions that verifiably separates us from other animals, and its universality brings us together. This is a sentiment that's been treasured since the dawn of cuisine by people who value the art of eating. And it's not only the ingredients - be they delicate heirloom tomatoes or the stalwart hothouse kind - that we share when we eat well together. There is also the love and creativity and work we combine them with - those human qualities that transform food into cuisine, and eating into a pleasure.

So large does cooking loom in my life that I have often considered adding a recipe section to my blog, if I ever actually do restructure it to allow more scope for different modes of expression. Then again, there are days I appreciate the constraints of this simple format.

1 comment:

carlakeet said...

I had a very different reaction to Powell's piece. Here's a link to what I wrote about it in my blog.

De gustibus non est disputandum (sp?), anyway!