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.
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.
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.
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.