The Single Most Important Aspect to Holiday Entertaining

dinner-tableIn the United States, Thanksgiving was just last week, which signals for us the beginning of the Holiday/Christmas season. Most often associated with the holiday season is hospitality. The parties we go to. The parties we throw. The food we eat. The food we prepare. The people we share meals with. The people gathered around our table on Christmas.

I don’t know about you, but I often stress more about the food than is probably reasonable. I want the food to be perfect. It does not help that I am a former chef. In the restaurant the drive for perfection (which I recognize is never attainable) served me well. When customers are paying top price, they deserve my best efforts.

But in my own home it should be different. No one is paying to eat at my house, nor would I ever want them to. Hopefully people are coming because they enjoy me, Claire, and Hazelle, not because of my culinary skills. And I have extended an invitation to them because I enjoy their company and want to repast with my family.

If this is the case, and I believe it to be the case, I should worry less about the food and more about my guests.

I was recently reminded of some great quotes by, who many consider the father of modern gastronomic writing, Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin in The Physiology of Taste: Or, Meditations on Transcendental Gastronomy. He writes:

However, it must not be believed that all these adjuncts are indispensable to the enjoyment of the pleasures of the table. This pleasure can be savored almost to the full whenever the four following conditions are met with: food at least passable, good wine, agreeable companions, and enough time (page 184).

On the other hand, no matter how studied a dinner plan nor how sumptuous its adjuncts, there can be no true pleasures of the table if the wine be bad, the guest assembled without discretion, the faces gloomy, and the meal consumed with haste (page 185).

The primary purpose of hospitality is opening ourselves to another person. Or to quote Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin again, “To invite people to dine with us is to make ourselves responsible for their well-being for as long as they are under our roofs” (page 4). I cannot do this if I am so preoccupied with the food and the details of the dinner. This means that it’s not wise to make a buerre blanc for a Christmas gathering. This also means that if my roast burns or if the meal turns out inedible, ordering pizza will be just fine (it might also mean opening the second bottle of wine a little earlier).

As I meditate on this idea at the start of the Christmas season, I am also challenged again by Jesus’ words to me regarding hospitality:

When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous” (Luke 14:12-14).

Jesus challenges me that as I think about who to invite around my table, the point is never to be a tit-for-tat hospitality—“If I invite so-and-so, they might do this for me.” Rather Jesus calls me to look for the forgotten, the neglected, those who might not otherwise have a place. Jesus calls me to invite people radically different from myself over to feast and to laugh.

And let’s be honest: this is incredibly hard. During the holidays I want to spend time with the people closest to me; the people who have journeyed with me during the year. And those times are good and needed.

But are those the only people I am spending time with? How can I simplify my life, carve out space to reach out to someone who cannot repay me?

As a Christ follower, I am called to practice radical, inclusive hospitality. As a church we as Christ followers are called to practice radical inclusive hospitality. And now more so than ever does the world need to witness this radical, inclusive hospitality. And what better time than when we celebrate the King of kings and Lord of lords being born a baby in a manger, worshiped by shepherds?

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Stewardship Versus Faithfulness

grapes-690230_1280In their wonderful, challenging book, Slow Church (reviewed on this blog), Chris Smith and John Pattison argue against the “fast-food-ization” of the American culture, including and especially the church. As a gross over generalization, we as a culture want everything quick, nicely packaged, and to be the same wherever we may be. Sadly this has seeped into the church at times, where we can be more enamored with results than with being faithful. They write:

Instead of cultivating a deep, holistic discipleship that touches every aspect of our lives, we’ve confined the life of faith to Sunday mornings, where it can be kept safe and predictable, or to a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ,” which can be managed from the privacy of our own home. (page 14)

Against this “fast-food-ization,” pockets of Slow resistance have arisen to call us back to a different way of being. The Slow protest began with the Slow Food movement, started by Carlo Petrini, in Italy in response to a McDonalds near the Spanish steps. Instead of the homogeneity of fast food culture, Carlo Petrini wanted to reclaim Italy’s native foods and food culture—pasta, cheese, and wine—food that expressed what it meant to be Italian to its fullest extent.

Drawing on the principles of the Slow Food Movement, Chris and John write:

Slow Church can help us unmask and repent of our industrialized and McDonaldized approaches to church. It can also spur our imaginations with a rich vision of the holistic, interconnected and abundant life together to which God has called us in Christ Jesus. The Slow Food Movement is fundamentally about the richness of a common life with the neighbors who grow our food, prepare our food and share our food. Slow Church is a call for intentionality, an awareness of our mutual interdependence with all people and all creation, and an attentiveness to the world around us and the work God is going in our very own neighborhoods. (pages 15-16)

In seeking to correct the over industrialized and McDonaldized approaches to church, we will be tempted to over compensate. If fast food culture and church are defined by control and efficiency, where we seek homogeneity and easy, quick results, then Slow Church adopters might be tempted take a laissez-faire approach to church, letting come what may.

I would argue that both are false approaches, both hiding behind the appearance of being spiritual. The McDonaldized approach to church claiming they are seeking to effectively steward the resources of the church; whereas the laissez-faire approach will hide behind the claim of simply being faithful, letting God do the work that only he can do. (I recognize that these are gross over-simplifications. I see the danger lying more in the subtle ways leaders cave to one of these two temptations without ever outright saying it.)

In using the ideas of Slow Food, Slow Church finds a middle way by demonstrating that stewardship and faithfulness go hand in hand.

Slow Food seeks to elevate native food culture and traditions instead of simply importing the latest fad. This means stewarding the natural resources and traditions of the place, while simultaneously being faithful to the place. As I understand them, stewardship is making the best out of the resources one has, whether as an individual or a community. To bring out the best with what one has. Faithfulness is being observant, listening, and aware of what is present in one’s surroundings, and willing to use them for good purposes. According to this, then, I cannot be faithful without being a good steward, and I cannot be a good steward without being faithful.

I wonder if this is a far analogy: stewardship is the science and faithfulness is the art. In dealing with any living organism, from farming, to viniculture, to cooking, to church, there is always a science and an art to what we do. And the top people in the craft realize and strive to see the two harmoniously interwoven.

While this is easy to recognize, the hard part comes in putting this into practice for it is easier to live in one of the two extremes.

How do we seek to harmoniously interweave stewardship and faithfulness into the church? Stay tuned for thoughts. But in the meantime, I would love to hear from you: How have you sought to do this?

In my next blog I want to examine how the Benedictine vows of stability, obedience, and conversion might provide a framework for moving forward.

Hospitality Perverted

If hospitality, like I discussed in my previous post, is the creation of an open space to allow people the freedom to be who God created and intended them to be (most clearly seen and exhibited when Jesus washed his disciples’ feet), then what is its stark opposite?

Dare I say: Cannibalism?

In Homeric Greece, a civilized community is a place where “people produce grain to make their bread, where they have vineyards to make wine, orchards with apple and pear trees, pomegranates, figs and olives, and where well-planted gardens provide all sorts of fresh green vegetables throughout the year. Communities like this have meeting halls where the people come together for discussion and counsel” (Food: The History of Taste, 67). And hospitality was an act held in high regard; Zeus himself was considered the god of strangers; so much so that the common practice upon receiving a stranger was to first feed him and then, once fed, to ask questions about his history and business (The Hungry Soul, 102).

In his epic The Odyssey, Homer gives us a glimpse into what the antithesis to the idea of Greek hospitality looked like through Odysseus’ encounter with the Cyclopes Polyphemus. As many know, the Cyclopes are one-eyed monsters. Because of the one eye, they lack any perspective, motivated solely by the here-and-now, enslaved to an unbridled, imbalanced appetite.

The Cyclopes are further described as “lawless brutes,” having “no meeting place for council, no laws either,” and “each a law to himself, ruling his wives and children, not a care in the world for any neighbor” (The Odyssey, 9:120-128). Their land is unsown and unplowed, overgrown. They live in caves in complete isolation from one another, hating community and hospitality so much that they use huge boulders as doors. Polyphemus takes better care of his goats and sheep than other humans.

When Odysseus and his men finally face the Polyphemus, they beg him to treat them as was the custom, as Zeus had commanded. Polyphemus’ reaction to Odysseus’ request? Mocking Zeus and hospitality to the extent that he snatches up two of Odysseus’ men, “knocked them dead like pups—their brains gushed out all over, soaked the floor—and ripping them limb from limb to fix his meal he bolted them down like a mountain-lion, left no scrap, devoured entrails, flesh and bones, marrow and all!” (9:326-330)

They Cyclopes have such a distorted/twisted view of what it means to be human that they resort to devouring humans, leaving nothing behind. Humans are simply to be tossed aside while his goats and sheep deserve the utmost care and respect. As Leon Kass observes, “For him [Polyphemus], not nature or the divine, but ‘one’s-own-ness’ is supreme” (The Hungry Soul, 112). Kass continues, “One-eyed, without perspective, he is confused about what is truly near and far, about what is superficial and what goes deep, indeed, about that which is truly his own—the human soul and its openness to learning and loving” (112). Everyone that is only slightly different is a threat to who he has become, and therefore, must be destroyed, taken to the furthest extreme in cannibalism.

While no one might be practicing Polyphemus’ deeply perverted hospitality, I do wonder if there is not some sort of spiritual cannibalism we as sinful humans all struggle with? We may never resort to physical cannibalism, but do we spiritually cannibalize others who are different from us?

This spiritual cannibalism brought to mind Paul’s words to the church at Galatia: “If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed” (Galatians 5:15).

Life in the Spirit and becoming more and more like Christ is not an easy, straight-forward process. It is messy; it can be disorienting; it can raise a whole lot more questions than provide answers. Unfortunately our tendency is not to embrace said process but to look for shortcuts or easier means. Along the way we are tempted to think that these shortcuts are the means of sanctification and require others to adopt the same. If not, they can be ostracized from the community…devoured and destroyed…instead of “serving one another in love” (Galatians 5:14).

What am I doing that might be cannibalizing others? What practices/ideologies/theologies of the church might be cannibalistic in nature?

An Ode to Potatoes

Potatoes. They seem so innocent. So cheap. So accessible. So versatile. Providing starch to any meal. Oh so comforting. But healthy?

Ponder with me for a moment the most common uses for a potato:

  • French fries
  • Potato chips
  • Mashed potatoes
  • Scalloped potatoes or Potatoes au Gratin
  • Hashbrowns
  • Baked potatoes
  • Roasted potatoes

French fries and potato chips…enough said. Next.

Mashed potatoes. I am sorry but what makes mashed potatoes so tasty is not the potato. Have you ever tried mashed potatoes with no butter or fat added? They are repulsive. The key ingredient in good mashed potatoes is butter, and lots of it. The famous chef Joël Robuchon is known worldwide for his incredible potatoes. He found that the best ratio of potatoes to butter is a 2 to 1 ratio. For every two pounds of potatoes, he uses one pound of butter. It takes that much butter to make mashed potatoes taste good.

Scalloped Potatoes or Potatoes au Gratin. Look at the ingredient list – potatoes, cream, cheese. Why do we like this dish? Probably not because of the potatoes. This dish was probably invented by an old country mom who had served her family potatoes one too many times. Not only were they tired of potatoes, she was also out of butter, but realized that she had a plethora of cream and cheese at her disposal. In a moment of sheer brilliance she tricks her family into eating potatoes for the umpteenth time by cooking them in cream and cheese and at the last minute adding more cheese to the top.

Hashbrowns. The best are those that are crispy on the outside but tender and fluffy on the inside. But the only way to crisp them up is to use butter. And you know what makes hashbrowns even better? An over easy egg in which the yolk becomes the perfect sauce for hashbrowns. Either that, or they are smothered in ketchup, not as bad as butter or a yolk, but not exactly health food. Let’s not forget what hashbrowns are typically served with…eggs, bacon, sausage, pancakes, biscuits and gravy. Those hashbrowns definitely make up for those four pieces of bacon, three over easy eggs and the short stack of pancakes.

Baked potatoes. On their own, they look innocent and healthy enough. And in an ideal world, they probably are healthy. Plus baked sounds healthier. Better than fried…right? “So waiter, I will have the baked potato, but could I get that with butter, sour cream, bacon bits, and did you mention you had chili? Some of that too then. And maybe just a little cheese as I am really trying to watch what I eat.”

Roasted potatoes. These are definitely the healthiest of the bunch, but my problem with roasted potatoes is that they really only taste good that first minute out of the oven. You know exactly what I am talking about. Perfectly crisped on the outside while tender and fluffy on the inside. But try that same potato five minutes later and I would swear that some weird voodoo stuff was put upon the potato as there is no way that is the same potato I tasted mere moments ago. So while healthier than every other iteration of potato, they suffer from not being fried, mixed with a lot of butter or cooked in cream and cheese.

I am therefore left to draw the only reasonable conclusion from all of this: Potatoes exist to be a conduit for fat and lots of it.

Dinner at Forage Restaurant

One of the most exciting, current food trends is allowing the local to shape the nature of a restaurant’s cuisine. Restaurants in Europe, like Noma and Faviken, have been instrumental in spearheading this movement, and now other chefs in the United States are incorporating this philosophy into how they cook. This trend is a very localized farm-to-table movement, where all the details of the restaurant are shaped by this philosophy. (An aside: I am fascinated by how this trend has appeared at the height of the molecular gastronomy movement in cuisine.)

Forage Restaurant in Salt Lake City is presenting cuisine connected with the terrior of Utah, and after a meal there this past Saturday, it is very exciting.

Forage has been on my radar even before moving to Utah. I think I first heard of Forage when the chefs (Viet Pham and Bowman Brown at the time) were nominated for a James Beard award. Viet Pham left Forage in September 2012 to pursue his own restaurant (he has appeared on Food Network a couple of times). Since then, Chef Brown has put his unique spin on the menu paying more careful attention to what Utah offers and trying to look deeply at the question, “What can this place offer? And how can I respect the ingredients?”

For my birthday my parents’ gift to me was money so that Claire and I could enjoy an evening at Forage. I had not been this excited about a meal in a really long time, and was slightly worried that my expectations would be too high and I would be let down. Thankfully, that was not the case in the least; the team at Forage gave us one of the best meals I have ever enjoyed, and definitely the best dining experience in Utah.

Forage only offers a tasting menu, which can be accompanied by wine pairings or non-alcoholic juice pairings. I opted for the wine pairings with each course, while Claire had the juice pairings. When you dine at Forage, I think this is the way to go as the juices were unique and delicious and definitely not an afterthought to the wine (actually in some courses, we both preferred the juice pairing to the wine pairing). The wine pairings were unique and allowed me to try some new wines, like a sparkling Malbec and a dry Gewurztraminer.

(The pictures do not do the food justice, but I was not going to spend 15 minutes to get a great picture of each dish.)

The meal started with five amuse bouches.

Apple and Woodruff

apple and woodruff with fermented honey (this was fresh pressed warm apple cider, quite possibly the best apple cider I have tasted)

Elderberry and Beet

elderberry and beet (beet puree inside of elderberry leather. Thankfully the beet was not overly sweet, so it was a nice bite of the earthy beet with the elderberry fruit)

Crispy Potato

crispy potato with chicken liver mousse (the chicken liver was very subdued and approachable)

Kale with Juniper

kale with juniper (this dish was presented to the table with a glass dome on top, so that when the server lifted the lid, the aroma of the smoking juniper branches engulfed us. The kale was presented as chips and sandwiched between was an egg yolk puree, adding a nice richness to the smokiness of the dish)

Elk and Buckwheat

elk with buckwheat (elk heart tartar with watercress and creme fraiche, served with homemade buckwheat crackers. The flavor of the tartar was quite subdued, I would have liked a stronger flavor from the heart, which felt overpowered by the cracker, but still very tasty)

All of the amuse bouches were excellent, but our favorite had to be the apple and woodruff, if only because a fresh cup of hot apple cider is just so hard to beat. The amuses came quite quickly; I wish they had been spaced out a little more so that we could truly savor each unique bite.

Bread with Local Butter

Before the main courses arrived, we were presented with homemade bread and butter made locally at Gold Creek Farms.

Crayfish and Late Tomatoes

crayfish with late tomatoes (this dish surprised me as it was presented cold. The tomatoes are presented here as ice, but with a super concentrated flavor. Underneath were two nuggets of crayfish with a crayfish panna cotta underneath.)

Fresh Roe and Potatoes with Elderberry Capers

fresh roe and potatoes with elderberry capers (a perfectly cooked potato, displaying a lovely butteriness to it, topped with fresh trout roe and cream. Potatoes, roe, cream…classic combination and for good reason.)

Young Roots, Stems, Leaves, with Fruit Vinegar

young roots, stems, leaves, with fruit vinegar (baby carrots and beets on top of a perfectly sublime parsnip puree, finished with a homemade fruit vinegar. Perfectly executed fall vegetables)

Oats and Turnips with Mushrooms

oats and turnips with mushrooms (a full on assault of umami in this course. The previous course and this course fully encapsulated the broad range of fall flavors and the beauty of this time)

Duck with Black Gooseberries

duck with black gooseberries, onion, black bread (this was not on the menu but a special course. The skin on the duck was crackling-esque, while the flavor of the duck was so deep and rich, tempered by the fruit and the lightly pickled onions)

Trout with a Sauce of its Bones

trout with a sauce of its bones (the trout was lightly smoked but still incredibly moist, topped with a briny sauce and New Zealand spinach. The combination of smoke and brine was really quite delightful)

Beef with Cabbage and Wild Onion

beef from pleasant mountain with cabbage and wild onion (beef shoulder sous vide for 48 hours in beef fat with cabbage and onion puree. The cabbage was sweeter than most cabbage I have had before, but still with a slight bitter edge, but really helped to balance the richness of the beef)

I have a hard time picking a favorite main course as they were all executed with such precision and offered unique flavors and textures. Not to mention the order and progression was great.

Frozen Quince and Green Juniper

frozen quince and green juniper (the first dessert was a quince and marshmallow sorbet topped with juniper and lemon verbana. Claire and I both loved this dessert as it was light and refreshing, serving almost like a palate cleanser)

Toasted Acorn

toasted acorn (acorn cake, acorn custard, ground toasted acorns and a salted yogurt)

I really appreciated that both desserts were not overly sweet, but again well balanced with differing textures.

I cannot reiterate how much I loved dining at Forage. It is exciting to see Chef Brown and his team doing something completely unique in terms of a dining experience in Utah.

My Biggest Pet Peeve

My biggest pet peeve in being a professional cook has nothing to do with the hours, the people I work with, or even the customers who can sometimes be completely unreasonable. No my actual biggest pet peeve is when I hear people tell me, “We would love to invite you over, but we are scared to cook for you.”

Listen, I understand. I am around food way too much, cook way too much, and taste good food way too much. And I will admit that it is hard to turn off the critique in my head. Doing something as an amateur around a professional can be nerve-wracking. It can bring to the surface all of the feelings of insecurity and inadequacy we are used to suppressing.

But I still hate it.

First, understand that Claire and I have just finished graduate school and are going to be paying back over $200,000 in student loans FOR-E-VER. So when someone wants to offer us a free meal, we will gladly accept it.

Second, people must think that Claire and I eat like royalty at home every night of the week, which is simply not true. My lunch is sometimes frozen pot-stickers from Costco or beef hot links on a hotdog bun. Not to mention that there are some nights after a long week, where I simply do not want to cook, so Claire and I will enjoy the rare delicacy of Kraft Mac-n-cheese with a can of tuna.

Third and most important, Claire and I love spending a quiet evening with other people around the table. Sure it helps when the food is good, but just being together is more important. I did not start cooking because I wanted to always eat really good food; I started cooking because I noticed something more in feeding people than just the physical act—the deep spiritual connection that occurs when people dine together.

Maybe that is why the statement irks me so much – it reveals that the other person does not know me that well yet.

Even if you order in pizza, Claire and I will be thrilled; we simply want to get to know you.

Or recall the climatic scene from Ratatouille, when Ego is served ratatouille. That is all any of us really want…to experience the warmth, love and security of home every time we sit down to eat.

My Love/Hate Relationship with Michael Pollan

While love and hate may be too strong of words to describe my reaction to Michael Pollan’s new book Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation, I figured it might grab your attention. But in reading his latest contribution to the ever changing dialogue of the place of food in American culture, at times he was speaking directly to my heart about the importance of a shared meal, but at other times, I could barely continue reading as I was frustrated and jealous of how he went about the business of learning to cook.

I have enjoyed reading Michael Pollan’s books over the past few years, starting with The Omnivore’s Dilemma, then In Defense of Food, and now Cooked. I don’t think it is an exaggeration to state that Michael Pollan may be the most influential food writer in America. Through his three books, he has done more to change the food culture in America from exposing the awfulness of modern agriculture practices to the dangers of our over reliance on corn and to the weird science of nutritionism.

I was excited as I began reading Cooked as right off the bat he states that lately he came to the realization that while he had written a lot about food, he knew very little about how to cook. Not only did he not know much about cooking, but he “made the unexpected but happy discovery that the answer to several of the questions that most occupied me was in fact one and the same. Cook” (1). He laments the lack of cooking being done in America today, which is odd as Americans are watching and talking about food more than ever.

His premise in the book is that cooking “is one of the most interesting and worthwhile things we humans do” (11). And after his education in the kitchen he writes, “the most important thing I learned by doing this work is how cooking implicates us in a whole web of social ecological relationships: with plants and animals, with the soil, with farmers, with the microbes both inside and outside our bodies, and, of course, with the people our cooking nourishes and delights. Above all else, what I found in the kitchen is that cooking connects” (18, emphasis mine).

He also praises the importance of the shared meal. He writes, “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” (8).

Everything he has said, I reply with a heartily “Amen!” If you know me, these ideas are what makes my heart come alive. I first borrowed the book from our local public library, but after reading the introduction, I told Claire that I wanted to buy the book, to which her response was, “You want to underline and write in the book.” And she was absolutely correct. I wanted the ability to have this book on my shelf so I could quote from it without having to look too far.

Michael Pollan divides his book into four sections based on the primordial elements: Fire, Water, Air and Earth, with each section evidencing a greater degree of civilization. In Fire, he learns the techniques of authentic barbeque from pitmasters in South Carolina. In Water, he learns all about the technique of braising from a local cook who had worked at Chez Panisse and spent two years in Tuscany learning how to cook. In Air he discusses the wonder of the wild yeast found all around us that has made bread baking possible, spending time talking and learning with Chad Robertson, the fame baker at Tartine Bakery. And finally in Earth, he learns the science about fermentation, from pickles to cheese to beer, again learning from experts along the way.

And this is where my frustration (and if I am honest, my jealousy) with the book started to mount. Here was a great writer and thinker discovering what I and many others have known for a while, namely the pleasures of cooking and sharing a meal with others, but he was learning from some of the best in the business, a privilege few people are able to enjoy. He travels not only the states, but the world, to talk to people who have been practicing their specific craft for years. He is able to spend a devoted length of time to learning how to bake a loaf of bread based on Chad Robertson’s recipe from Tartine Bakery, a recipe that requires at least 6 hours of time, turning the loaf every 45 minutes or so. I would wager that anyone could find the same success in cooking as Michael Pollan did if given the opportunities he had.

But the problem is, not many of us will ever be able to simply call up Chad Robertson with a question about our bread starter and be able to hang out with him learning. Chances are if you want to learn to cook, we will have to teach ourselves. And this is exactly how I have learned. Yes I have been to culinary school, but I am still paying off that debt. Yes I work in a restaurant, where I have also learned quite a bit. But by and large, my culinary education has been self-taught. I have taught myself a lot about sous-vide cooking. I have taken the time to bake bread and cultivate a sourdough starter. And I know many others who have taken a similar approach.

And herein lays the small danger of Michael Pollan’s book: unknowingly or unwittingly he espouses the belief that in order to cook successfully, one has to learn from professionals. He laments the outsourcing of a lot of our cooking in modern life, but when he seeks to learn how to cook himself, he relies on the professionals. He might argue that this is no different than reading and copying recipes from cookbooks, but I don’t think it is the same.

When I was starting to explore cooking more and more, I learned from recipes and books, but when and if something fails, I do not have the luxury of having the author right there to answer my question. Instead I am left to figure it out myself and try again. My worry is that others will read this book and instead of feeling inspired to cook might feel discouraged and deflated.

But just as I was ready to give up on the book, I skipped ahead to the conclusion where Michael Pollan returns to the beauty and heart of cooking and sharing meals, where “the world becomes literally more wonderful (and wonderfully more literal) as soon as we are reminded of these relationships” (408). As we cook we are reminded of the beautiful relationships that exist. Our relationship to this earth, that we depend on the earth to feed us. Our relationship to farmers who grow the food we eat. And most importantly our relationship with one another, the community we experience around food that is unlikely to be experienced in any other avenue of human activity.

At the table we experience love, community and interdependency like no other place. Through cooking we remember that we are all humans on the same journey. And I love that Michael Pollan has written about this, but please know that you do not need the best cooks to teach you how to cook. You can start by choosing a recipe that you feel comfortable with and trying it and inviting a few friends over to share it with you.

If it fails, order pizza and laugh with your friends, as the point is not the food, but rather the people we share the food with.