Artists create paintings that will last for centuries, poets make poems that will live on long after they have died, but the cook creates something which must be consumed immediately and often quickly, and if we're honest, will soon be forgotten. And then a few hours later, we have to do it all over again. Day in and day out. So why do we bother and further, why do we enjoy it so much? There are probably as many answers to that question as there are cooks but for me, it's three things: the doing, the sharing, and the appreciating.
I love the physicality of cooking. I love the way I use my body in the kitchen, from the fine motor skills of chopping to lifting a heavy pot of soup or bending to pick up a dropped carrot. I also love the physicality of my ingredients, the colors and textures and sounds and smells of them and they way they interact with my kitchen tools. The red peppers in the green bowl, the sound of celery being sliced, the way garlic smells when it first hits the hot oil and the way it smells a few moments later when it starts to cook and mellow. So even if I didn't get to share the fruits of my labor, I think I would be happy just with the cooking.
But I do get to share my food and that's also amazing. The impermanence of a good meal means that the moments shared and enjoyed are felt even more keenly. This gathering of friends on this particular night, with this particular meal, will never be duplicated. This tea for two, this morning breakfast before the rush of the day sets in, all this living that happens around the table. Sharing food is a conversation, a connection. Here, take this and be nourished, be happy, be content. Here, I made this for you because it's your favorite, because I thought you would like it, because I thought you might be hungry. Did you like the plums in the stew?
But ultimately, it's all about appreciation. Of the food, of the moment, of the connections. Cooking helps me to notice this, it helps me to find the connection and the love even when I think I've lost it. So cooking is not about making something that will endure (quite the opposite) but it is about something that speaks very deeply to our aliveness. Even though that delicious dinner, which took me all afternoon to make, will be crumbs and compost before the clock strikes midnight, it still satisfies on so many levels.
So yes, it all disappears quickly but it leaves behind a moment more fully lived and relationships more deeply realized. Besides, what's more important, what's more potent, what's more real: some idea of the future or this very present moment?
Related: Weekend Meditation: Lingering
(Image: Dana Velden)