Weekend Meditation: On Authenticity and Restraint

Authentic is one of those words that's hard to define and yet we somehow know what it means. The dictionary says it's something that is 'real, genuine, trustworthy' but authenticity is also a value, a character trait. There's an instinctive, knowing-in-the-gut feeling when something is authentic.

What does it mean to be authentic in the kitchen and at the table? Is this something you are aware of? Is it something that you value?

Certainly the kitchen is a place for innovation and experimentation, but lately I find that I'm also interested in authenticity. What that means is that I try to cook and eat with the seasons, and that my food is as organically and humanely raised as I can afford it to be. It's not that I don't heat up a frozen pizza now and then but it means that I'm doing it less often.

It also means that I have to live with some limits, sometimes ones that are a little tough. Organic chicken is expensive and if I can't afford it, then I have to do with out chicken that week. My produce box is bring a lot of parsnips to my life these days. I love parsnips but I may not much longer if this keeps up! And yet, if this is the price of a more authentic, balanced, humane and sustainable life, then I'll pay it. I'll pay it gladly and with no..well, with little complaint.

I know that we're convinced that having unlimited choice is the key happiness and satisfaction. Consider the endless isles in the average supermarket: when did it become necessary to offer seventy-five different kinds of cereal, thirty brands of salsa? Too much choice is not that great, I've found. It actually makes me a little anxious. Surrounded by so many options, how do I even know what I like? How can I make the best choice? Where did all this excess come from? How are we going to dispose of it once we're done with it?

Who knows what's ahead for us in this coming year, but it wouldn't be outrageous to predict that things are going to tighten up. While that, too, can produce anxiety I also hope that it may lead us in a more thoughtful direction. Maybe in dealing with limitations we will discover what is real, and genuine, and trustworthy. Maybe we'll see less chicken nuggets and more whole chickens, roasted in the oven at home, leftovers served for lunch the next day and the carcass turned into stock. Might not be such a bad thing, actually.

I was inspired to consider this topic after watching an amazing short documentary on chefs Fergus Henderson and Dan Barber called On Authenticity. I high recommend watching it. Here's Part One:

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Weekend Meditation

Dana Velden is a freelance food writer. She lives, eats, plays, and gets lost in Oakland, California where she is in the throes of raising her first tomato plant.

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