Thursday, March 03, 2016

To cook or not to cook, that is the consequential question

My husband have been watching this new documentary series on Netflix called "Cooked" by Michael Pollan. He was very impressed by it and insisted that I at least watch the last episode: Episode 4, Earth. 

It was an outstanding episode on fermentation and food. Do you know that cocoa is actually from fermented beans? And I absolutely loved the section on cheese. 

Pollan said, "Disgust is one of the primary human emotions, an instinctive reaction to something that offends our sense of taste and could be dangerous. Cheese reconnects us with a very earthy side of life, and about decay and decomposition."

He was featuring this nun, Sister Noelle Marcellino who is also a microbiologist from Abbey Regina Laudis in Bethlehem, Connecticut. She makes a version of a French cheese called Saint-Nectaire, a raw milk, uncooked, natural ruins cheese made strictly according to ancient techniques that have been practiced in France for hundreds of years. 

It's what she said about eating cheese that impressed me, "It's this sense that we're eating decomposition, break-down product. You could call it death. To me, it's a taste of that, but a promise of something delicious. So, I think it's almost a subconscious way of being prepared for death and facing our own mortality. And for me, that analogy of really, a death, a decomposition creating this wonderful flavor, it's a promise of something better. I experience that over and over again when I look at cheese, when I smell cheese, and when then I look at cheese the microbial ecology of cheese. That's the wonder for me, that it's a promise of life beyond death."

How profound.

The episode then concluded with Pollan reading this portion from his book, Cooked, "To cook or not to cook thus becomes a consequential question.

Though I realize that is putting the matter a bit too bluntly. Cooking means different things at different times to different people; seldom is it an all-or-nothing proposition. Yet even to cook a few more nights a week than you already do, or to devote a Sunday to making a few meals for the week, or perhaps to try every now and again to make something you only ever expected to buy—even these modest acts will constitute a kind of a vote. A vote for what, exactly? Well, in a world where so few of us are obliged to cook at all anymore, to choose to do so is to lodge a protest against specialization—against the total rationalization of life. Against the infiltration of commercial interests into every last cranny of our lives. To cook for the pleasure of it, to devote a portion of our leisure to it, is to declare our independence from the corporations seeking to organize our every waking moment into yet another occasion for consumption...It is to reject the debilitating notion that, at least while we’re at home, production is work best done by someone else, and the only legitimate form of leisure is consumption. This dependence marketers call “freedom.”

Cooking has the power to transform more than plants and animals: It transforms us, too, from mere consumers into producers. Not completely, not all the time, but I have found that even to shift the ratio between these two identities a few degrees toward the side of production yields deep and unexpected satisfactions. 

Cooked is an invitation to alter, however slightly, the ratio between production and consumption in your life. The regular exercise of these simple skills for producing some of the necessities of life increases self-reliance and freedom while reducing our dependence on distant corporations. Not just our money but our power flows toward them whenever we cannot supply any of our everyday needs and desires ourselves. And it begins to flow back toward us, and our community, as soon as we decide to take some responsibility for feeding ourselves. This has been an early lesson of the rising movement to rebuild local food economies, a movement that ultimately depends for its success on our willingness to put more thought and effort into feeding ourselves. Not every day, not every meal—but more often than we do, whenever we can.

Cooking, I found, gives us the opportunity, so rare in modern life, to work directly in our own support, and in the support of the people we feed. If this is not “making a living,” I don’t know what is. In the calculus of economics, doing so may not always be the most efficient use of an amateur cook’s time, but in the calculus of human emotion, it is beautiful even so. For is there any practice less selfish, any labor less alienated, any time less wasted, than preparing something delicious and nourishing for people you love?"

Wow...this is certainly so fitting for me in my desire to get back to cooking. I will surely go get a copy of the book now, and watch the first three episodes before my free Netflix expires, which is tomorrow.


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