Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Food, Traditions, Culture

Last week, I mentioned that my favorite part of cooking and entertaining happens just before the meal goes on the table - when it's still all mine, and full of potential. Over the weekend, though, I realized that what I said is not necessarily true all the time. Oh, it's true that I'm selfish most of the time, but maybe not so much during the holidays.

I cooked my ass off this weekend, almost all for other people, and I loved it. But my favorite parts of the weekend were definitely when I was with those other people.

I don't think this is a change in my attitudes so much a by-product of Christmas. In I Must Have Ate Too Much (which I just finished), Jeffrey Steingarten writes about Thanksgiving, saying,
“In the United States, we have the grandest plat convivial of them all, the
holiday turkey, which we share with 245 million other Americans, including the
members of the armed forces, for whom the government spares no expense in
jetting turkeys about the globe. There is an uncanny and intoxicating sense fo
oneness in enjoying a dish with a quarter billion of your fellows. No fussy
eating allowed, no irrational preferences or aversions, no cultish diet fads or
hypochondria. Just feasting and drinking together, essential and fundamental
nourishment, plus lots of trimmings.”

In my "real work" life, I spend my days analyzing research, often trying to understand the unspoken traditions and connections that make a culture what it is (then, of course, I try to figure out how to sell into that culture, but I digress.) When I read Steingarten's comments on Thanksgiving, they hit home for me. Because cooking for me really isn't just a personal transcendent experience, it's also one that connects me to all other people - literally to the entire world.

A few weeks ago, I was emailing with a former colleague - someone from my ethnography days - and I mentioned that I had a food blog. He made the comment that the food bloggers he knows all have such interesting things going on outside of their blogs. They have crazy lives outside of food. I don't know that I'd go so far as to call my life "interesting" - certainly not "crazy" - but I like his point: those who love food often make every effort to live great lives.

I think this ties into what the Manolo wrote a few weeks ago. If you really love food, just as if you really love fashion, or art, or music, or literature, your appreciation can't exist in a vaccuum. It's really an appreciation that stems from the desire to learn about culture.

Of course, no chef can do this much thinking all the time. Sometimes we need to just get dinner on the table. But even then we can remember that even the most mundane meals are so much more than a combination of ingredients.

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