There are many things that can influence our cooking: ability, knowledge, budget, hunger and appetite, upbringing, politics, location or region, time and energy, psychological state, family — both present and past, weather, occasions and holidays, religion, mood, availability of ingredients, the kind of kitchen and cooking implements and appliances we have, the season, health, allergies and sensitivities, time of day, traditions, imagination or lack thereof, desire to gain or lose weight, our desires in general, boredom or excitement, our interest in and relationship to cooking in general, quality of ingredients, personal expression. OK. I could go on, but I'll stop there.
This list may seem enormous and complicated, but the truth is, much of it is functioning in the background for us, even when we do something as simple as reach for a can of soup or decide on roast chicken for Sunday's dinner. Because food and cooking and eating is so fundamental for human beings, it is both the simplest, most basic of our needs and at the same time, the most complex.
As a food writer, I'm inclined to emphasize the complexity, finding meaning and metaphor in every crumb and pot lid. Mostly I enjoy this. It gives me pleasure to find beauty and value in the everyday, what one commenter described as my 'sun on my morning oatmeal' observations. I'm also more than happy to leap down the rabbit holes of food justice, sustainable agriculture practices, and even The Great Hellman's vs Miracle Whip Debate.
Sometimes, though, I try to simplify my relationship to cooking, to remind myself that it's actually an easy equation: hunger plus cooking equals satisfaction. But even as I type this, I cannot ignore how privileged my assumption is that food will always follow my relatively mild pangs of hunger. My mind starts to explore the issues of satisfaction, what it means to be satisfied and how we achieve that and how the feeling of satisfaction will pass at some point and a new hunger will arise. And there I go, lost in the weeds of complexity.
So sadly, for today at least, my goal of trying to find an easy meander through talking about and thinking about food has failed. I'm not sure if this is a good or bad thing but it's obviously unavoidable, for me at least. In the end, I still think it's important to see food and cooking and our time in the kitchen as both a simple, everyday act of tending to our lives and a much more complex web of relationships and dependencies. In our kitchens, and in our bellies, the simple and ordinary exists together with the elaborate and entangled. The tricky thing is to hold both these truths equally, with respect and curiosity.
(Image: Dana Velden)