Food can be about a lot of things—nourishment, comfort, anger, pleasure, nostalgia, control, self-expression, obligation. It's also can be about belonging: to culture, to place and the seasons, to the earth and seas and skies, to weather and other forces of nature, to family and to that hungry person sitting at your kitchen table...
For me it's also about belonging to the moment. With all those sharp knives, boiling liquids, measures and ingredients to keep track of, cooking requires a fair amount of attention. The same recipe can be cooked over and over, and each time it's a little different. It's this carrot, this time a little sweeter; it's this cup of flour, this time a little drier. A certain presence and absorption is asked for, an engagement of all the senses that is inherently pleasurable and satisfying.
There are many moments in the kitchen where my mind wanders, it's true. Sorting beans, stripping bunches chard from its tough stalk, even chopping onions (with knives hopefully well sharpened) all have a repetitive, lulling effect and I sometimes find myself far away. But the pasta water boiling over, or the smell of charring garlic are reminders that attention is a primary ingredient.
I am fortunate to live in the Bay Area and to belong to a watershed that offers so much year round abundance that being a locavore is hardly a challenge. In fact, it is often an embarrassment of riches and I find myself wanting to tone it down some when talking with my snowbound, produce-challenged friends to the east. At least in the winter. But belonging means more than getting all the good stuff. It means having a responsibility to sustainability, to stewardship, to awareness and appreciation.
Belonging is a deep human need and often food is one of it's most fundamental expressions. It's spring (well, at least in the northern hemisphere) and it's Easter/Passover time as well. Besides filling the belly, why do you cook and what's being expressed? What do you belong to?
(All images: Dana Velden)