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May 2012 Posts

Reflections on the Meaning of Food

One:

Cooking is a relationship between ingredients, a symphonic harmony or angry discussion in the form of the penultimate state of a consumable good. A meal is a philter, a magic potion, not a combination of parts. Food is a relatively acceptable opulence or intoxicant, acceptable whether in ornamentation or quantity. Cooking is a chemistry experiment, the mystical union between unique particulates and compounds artfully arranged to satisfy palate and soul.

A meal is the interaction between eater and consumable: the same ingredients interact with the eater to signify romance or disgust. A disgust for one is the comfort food of another’s youth: food highlights human flexibility and cultural diversity. A meal can be mass produced by machines, crammed into freezer cabinets in shapes and forms only reflective of the original parts. A meal can be produced by hand, slowly and methodically, a thousand or more times before being perfected: bread dough, a pie crust, a plate of noodles.

Two:

I say I am hungry. First a discomfort in my biology, a desire for fulfillment, the end of an ailment. Second the mental disquieting. I am controlled by my biological necessity. My mind tells me I must eat and I consciously listen as though receiving a message from a disparate source. I am doing the listening and taking action upon my desire. I am not in charge of my wants. The I of me is the one who responds to the I of my desire. A prepared food, the image of satisfaction, in this condition is a sensual pleasure. To resist one’s desire for satisfaction, to prolong the want, is to increase the satisfaction – like a communion between tantric lovers.

I sample a portion of what is prepared before me. I may witness and take part in the operation, the creation. I choose what I wish to consume and as though selecting a movie or individual with whom I will interact. Each component has a name and purpose. One object offers my body a happiness, the sensory stimulation of a drug. One object is for health. I recognize that a sacrifice in what I purely crave will result in an invisible, detached reward. One part offers a unique flavor, a component of interest. The flavor must merge with the required ingredients. The flavor/s must tell me something, must speak through my cultural and experiential lens.

The portion offers texture and feel. The portion moves through my mouth like bare feet on a gradated surface, feeling through the ingredients and reminding myself of each object, first as a whole and then separately: this texture is a meat, this a vegetable; this feel is a pasta, a rice, a pudding. I feel as much as I taste. When I chew through the texture I move with the food. I know where to place each bite.

Three:

Food is a fully consumable art. Not constrained by being viewed from a distance, it becomes a part of the eater and integrated into the person, both as tangible items and as spiritual or emotional nourishment. Food crosses the boundary of speculative and enters into an experience. Food unifies the boundaries of history and biology: an engagement with all available senses,  a map of available resources, a history of conquest. Food is a drug, the cause of an illness, a cure.

Four:

We eat to live, but some live to eat. We live in a unique era with an exceptional selection of options and ingredients now available in even small, rural communities. We may now efficiently travel great distances for a few minutes of esoteric gastronomical bliss at a temple of haute cuisine or to sample the obscure culinary dialect of a culture few have heard of before.

Our food offers us peace, comfort, excitement, happiness, and joy. We look to it in times of unhappiness and relish in it when at our very best. We share the experience with others or enjoy on our own, finding meaning in the occurrence of each. And this is perhaps our greatest attribute as a species: the simplest act of consumption necessary for human existence, an act equated with pouring gasoline into a car, is an opportunity to find meaning in who we are as a community, as an individual, and as a mechanical object. We are the who that is eating and the who that must eat: one the necessity and the other our relationship to the object and its full meaning to ourselves and our community. We are what we eat.

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Reflections on the Meaning of Home

The end of our journey is to arrive back where we started and see it like for the first time. – T.S. Eliot

Y’all not from ’round here, are ya? – Ray, The Princess and the Frog

Home: Version 1

I left Hickory, NC for good the summer of 1998 and ceremoniously shook the dust off of my shoes as my parents’ car made its way north for 213 miles to the school where I would spend the next three years. I like to think that I never connected with North Carolina. Up to just a few years ago I still considered myself a New Yorker – despite the fact that I hadn’t lived there since just after my 9th birthday.

I left and only visited after.

Home: Version 2

I realize that I run from sociocultural identification. Somewhere buried under layers of associations and generalization a slender core of belief has been building in me regarding the feeling of and desire for home. It is the sense of loss and acceptance. It is a hope and goal. It is a belonging. It is the place that I have known all along but fought to replace with a location more appealing to my modern sentiments and way in which I wish to be defined and seen. It is an acceptance of the past.

The color and features are burned in my memory. I see faces and hear sounds. I see familiar shades of green and feel humidity in my pores. It is a part of who I am.

Home: Version 3

Home is a relationship with the invisible – a cosmic background radiation – a neurochemical reaction to a stimulus. It is an altercation, an invocation, a pronouncement. I feel the word slip through my teeth and settle with a soft finish; it is only a hesitation from the gentle “ohm” of Hindu meditation. I can feel the word as an exhalation.

But I do not visit home or feel it. Home is a series of Proustian encounters. It is an engagement with thoughts which form the foundation of all ideas that follow and find you when you are alone. Home is what you wish to give to those most clearly able to define it: the child on the back of a milk carton, a soldier in a foreign war, a drunk asleep on a bench. Home is the eradication of suffering in the bed  monsters once clawed out from under.

A home is the settling in of home. A home is a tension between building and tenant. A home absorbs the very best and worst of a dweller. A dweller absorbs the best and worst of home.

I run from and to home. I dip in my toes and then shake off my feet immediately; home is seen as the beginning of something that was with you all along. I am not a feeling and neither is home. We are a geography laden with signifiers.

Mine is grown over with kudzu and soundtracks: a stolen stop sign, a first love, a bass line, a family waiting at the door. Mine is a country with a swollen river, a broken chair, a suffocating heat. There is something here for me but I will never again possess it.

I pick up home like a ball and play with it for moments at a time, as though I am building up muscles that have long ago atrophied. I interact: I am the one who interacts and brings my self to a place of home. It is home who is patient and ever present while I leave and return.

Am I home? The action of my being home is a token conveying the meaning of the home as a signifier. I am the home which is present in the home. Without me there is no home for me to be present within. Home is the objet petit a: I desire to be a part of it such as it is part of me.

There is only one way for me to escape the allure of home: to accept it. To accept you must cover your feet with the dust you once shook off.

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