At the end of the last post, I proposed that maybe what we need is to engage people in training them to approach food that is counter-cultural to the American way. Monica, a good friend who always seems to ask the right question, raised the natural question, “How would one go about this sort of training?”
I have been thinking about this the past couple of days, and remembered a chapter in Serve It Forth by M.F.K. Fisher (part of The Art of Eating) entitled “Pity the Blind in Palate.” In the chapter Fisher argues thatAmerica as a culture is blind to the delights of taste. She writes in 1937,
Almost all people are born unconscious of the nuances of flavour. Many die so…. They like hot coffee, a fried steak with plenty of salt and pepper and meat sauce upon it, a piece of apple pie and a chunk of cheese. They like the feeling of a full stomach. They resemble those myriad of souls who say, ‘I don’t know anything about music, but I love a good rousing military band’ (p. 57).
One awakens a palate in the same manner one awakens his ear to good music—experimentation and thoughtful attention. As one experiments with new tastes and pays attention to them, a person begins to discover, like in music, the difference between good food and bad food.
Fisher mentions that of all the countries, France probably possesses the most intelligent collective palate, not because they can name great vintages of Burgundy and Bordeaux, but because “whichever France eats, she does it with a pleasure, an open-eyed delight quite foreign to most people” (p. 58). Whereas, she notes, “in America we eat, collectively, with a glum urge for food to fill us. We are ignorant of flavour. We are as a nation taste-blind” (p. 59).
Children in France are raised to appreciate food and wine. In France, and other countries, eating is not seen as merely fuel to be more productive, but food is a celebration and an integral part of their culture, who they are as a nation and as individual family units.
Changing America’s cultural view of food is a massive undertaking, but being a family who intentionally train their children to eat, not so insurmountable. I was recently made aware of Rachel Stone’s blog, eatwithjoy.org (definitely worth reading). Her family was recently on vacation and she shares this story:
My older son (Aidan, age 6) reminded me of the centrality of the table to what it means to be a family in a home. He’s not much for homesickness, or at least for openly expressing it, but today he asked if we’d be back tonight in time for dinner.
When I said I wasn’t sure, his eyes filled quickly with tears, which he tried to hide, and he bravely said,
“I just really wanted to eat dinner at our table again. I miss our table.“
Yes, my son–that longing for the table–our table–is built into you from the beginning. It is a picture of the longing we all have for belonging at a great table with all our beloveds, where we are ourselves are beloved, and where grace and plenty abound.
Rachel and her husband are doing it, training their children to understand and appreciate food and the table. She also shares some great wisdom on how she and her husband have governed dining practices with their children.
But the training also begins with me and you as individuals, and I don’t mean you have to eat at the best restaurants and spend an inordinate amount of money for this training. However, I will state that eating at really good restaurants helmed by chefs at the top of their game is also important.
Start by finding a local farmers’ market in your neighborhood, and perusing the stands seeing and smelling what is fresh and in season. Buy something new and go home and find a recipe on how to prepare it. Here is an even simpler idea. Citrus is really in season right now. Buy different varieties and taste them all, from blood oranges to cara cara oranges, to grapefruit, to tangerines, to lemons. And as you taste, notice and pay attention. If need be, jot down a few notes on the differences you notice and which ones you prefer.
You might be wondering, “Why do I need to do this? Won’t I turn into a food snob who can no longer enjoy simple food?” Not necessarily. Maybe you won’t eat KFC as much, not because you are too good for it, but because it is not good food, not to mention it is not good for you. I still have my guilty pleasures (Western Bacon Cheeseburger from Carl’s Jr., namely).
The key benefit, however, to what I am talking about is being fully aware in the present. Again as Fisher writes, “He can taste, and life itself has for him more flavour, more zest” (p. 58). With each new bite and even chew, new flavors, new textures, and new smells are experienced, and these sensations are there for seconds and then gone, save for the memory. Hopefully as one becomes fully present to what one is experiencing through eating, one can became more fully aware of God in the present moment. As I go through life, God is constantly working, and I should avail myself to those workings.
My goal in cooking is not to fill people, and encourage gluttony and lazy eating. Rather my goal is to open people to new tastes, but more importantly to the present moment, and hopefully through that, the person who eats will be more open to God.