[T]here was an unquestioned recognition that what goes on in the kitchen is holy. . . So many mysterious transformations are involved -- small miracles like the churning of butter from cream, or the fermentation of bread dough. In times past there was no question but that higher powers were at work in such goings-on, and a feeling of reverence sprang up in response.I can't remember a time when I thought of cooking as anything other than fun. I've always looked at it as a creative outlet, just like some people look at knitting or rebuilding an antique car. I only lived in a dorm for one semester in college, and the thing I hated was being unable to cook. That's when I realized that cooking was important to me -- and not simply to feed myself. Not only do I enjoy cooking the food, I enjoy making it look pretty on the plates. It's like creating a work of art. I love trying new recipes and growing fresh herbs. There are so many things in this world that we can't have, but when it comes to food, our options seem infinite. I have a couple dozen cookbooks, which I'll never work through, and now there are millions of recipes on the Web. I'm like a kid in a candy store. But before I get too excited, I'll admit that I know my attitude towards food is unusual.
Today, food is more likely to fill people with anxiety rather than happiness or awe. People feel guilty when they eat too much -- or when they eat something that tastes "too good." If it's good for you, then it probably tastes like cardboard, right? Our food comes frozen in bags or dried in boxes, and it has traveled an average of 1,500 miles to get to our plates. It is quite dead so that bacteria and fungi have nothing to feed upon, and since the nutrition and taste have been processed out of it, food scientists have enriched it with vitamins and artificial flavors. We're too busy to sit down with friends and family, so we grab a quick bite in the car or in front of the television. Should it surprise us that our eating habits are leading to rising rates of obesity, heart disease, and cancer?
We have a national eating disorder, according to Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma (2006). Every year, we have a new food demon (trans fats, carbs, red meat). We spend millions on diet books. Studies come out telling us to drink red wine, eat more tomatoes, or eat oat bran -- and for a short time, we do it. We are obsessed with eating healthy, yet we are increasingly becoming the most unhealthy industrialized country on the planet. We eat 20 percent of our meals in cars, and every day 1/3 of our children eat at fast food outlets.
They say enthusiasm is contagious, and I hope they're right. My goal for the next couple weeks is to get people excited about food. If you've been reading my blog for long, you know I love food. I love everything about food -- planning, growing, preparing, sharing, and eating. And I'm busy. But food is important to me, so I've figured out how to make time for food, even though I only have 24 hours in a day, just like everyone else. Since time is one of the objections I hear most often when people talk about eating better, I've decided to address it early in our two-week celebration of food. Tomorrow, I'll talk about the time issue, and next week, you'll see how I actually plan and execute the whole food thing.