Through the Fire Excerpt
This is an excerpt from “Through the Fire: Cooking Our Way Into a New Relationship With Food” by Charity Dasenbrock. charitydasenbrock.com
Some of the Basics
Michael Pollan, well-known author and lecturer about food and cooking, says that cooking is what will save the health of our people, community, world, and Mother Earth:
“The decline of everyday home cooking doesn’t only damage the health of our bodies and our land but also our families, our communities, and our sense of how our eating connects us to the world. Our growing distance from any direct, physical engagement with the processes by which the raw stuff of nature gets transformed into a cooked meal is changing our understanding of what food is. Indeed, the idea that food has any connection to nature or human work or imagination is hard to accept when it arrives in a neat package, fully formed. Food becomes just another commodity, an abstraction.”
In the United States, the birthplace of fast food, Americans eat fewer than 70 percent of their meals at home (this does not mean that the food was cooked at home) and less than a third of American families eat meals together more than twice a week, according to Emory University. At least 1 in 4 Americans eat some sort of fast food everyday and consume 1/3 more processed food than fresh. This fact, together with the epidemic of body image issues, points toward a need for fundamental change in American food culture. As we collectively return to the kitchen and the home-cooked meal, this will significantly alter the direction of nutrition and our relationship with food.
This includes not just cooking at home but eating as a family or community as well. Children and adults benefit greatly from the ritual of eating meals together. Family meals provide opportunities for sharing the day’s events and create a relaxing transition from busy daytime activities to slower-paced evening ones. Cooking meals at home and involving your children in food preparation is the best way to teach them healthy eating habits. Statistically, children who grow up in households where meals are eaten together perform better academically and show less tendency toward engaging in risky behaviors, such as smoking, drinking, and taking drugs, according to Washington State University nutrition researchers Martha Marina and Sue Butkus. I wish there were similar statistics about adult behavior, things like productivity, work days lost due to illness, etc.
We must return to the kitchen. For us to thrive, we must teach ourselves and our children the love of cooking. We all need to work on creating a culture where this is possible. There are many out there pushing this, and many out there who say it is an elitist cultural “problem.” Poor, unemployed, poverty-level people don’t have the luxury of worrying about this. They have enough to worry about just having enough food to eat, period. We as a culture owe it to our future to make sure no one is hungry and that we all have access to nutritious food.
Michael Pollan also says that:
“The food industry has done a great job of convincing eaters that corporations can cook better than we can. The problem is, it’s not true. And the food that others cook is nearly always less healthful than that which we cook ourselves. But how can we convince folks to give it a try? I think we have to lead with pleasure. Aside from the many health benefits, cooking is also one of the most interesting things humans know how to do and have done for a very long time. And we get that, or we wouldn’t be watching so much cooking on TV. There is something fascinating about it. But it’s even more fascinating when you do it yourself.”
We need to return to that intimate connection with our food. Eating is a very intimate act and experience, as cooking can be. There is no intimacy when food is planted and picked by machines, processed by machines, and then placed in a machine for cooking. The food never touches the hands (or the soul) of the eater or of the cook. The enjoyment of food is a beautiful gift given us by Mother Earth. It truly is the gift of life. No other animal experiences eating the way humans can and do. We eat for more than survival. Our food deserves to be treated with respect, love, and pleasure. We deserve to treat ourselves with that same respect, love, and pleasure.
Cooking and eating are about nourishment as well as nutrition. We can define nourishment as providing the materials necessary for life and growth from a biologic perspective. It is also about emotions, and means to support and encourage feelings, ideas, etc. Nourishment in all its forms is necessary.
There are many reasons why we cook. (For the purposes of this book, I am placing preparing food for the raw food diet in with cooking.) Some reasons are purely practical in that we have to get food on the table for our families and us to eat. Some reasons involve the science and geeky experimentation of it, or the art and beauty of it. Some reasons involve the pleasure of creating and the pleasure of eating. Some reasons involve the spiritual and holy nature of it. All cultures, races, and classes do some form of cooking. Just as eating the way we do is a uniquely human activity, so is cooking. Cooking directly connotes us with our food. It connects us with the rest of the world and our human family. It connects us to the rhythms and energy of the earth and that which we believe created it. It connects us with ourselves.
How we cook is how we are in the world.