Friday, November 15, 2013

What I Get from Cooking (And How it’s Part of my Path)

This is a rough draft.  I wrote this essay last week.

Of course I get food out of cooking, but I get so much more than a meal out of the process.  For me, the act of meal preparation is an exercise in spirituality as well.  Allow me to elaborate.

I am what I call an Agnostic Pagan, or Pagan-ish Agnostic, depending on the day.  I have written about this topic before, so I won’t go into it too much here.  I will say that I connect more with the wheel of the year, the changing of the seasons, than I do with the (to me) rather abstract notion of ‘god(s)’.
I must begin by providing some background information.

I do not have a garden currently.   I have a postage stamp-sized yard and a brown thumb.  However, I was raised by a mother who is also an avid gardener.  It is something she does because she enjoys growing food, and it is something she does so we can *have* food.   She may not identify as Pagan, but she does have a deep connection to nature and the seasons.   She depends on the earth, rain, and sun to help her crops grow.  She preserves everything that comes out of the garden, either by canning or freezing.

I have seen what a drought can do.  I have seen what a severe storm can do, flattening stalks of corn to the ground and making my mother almost cry from frustration.  Nature has a lot of power, and I grew up respecting it.   Late winter was a time to plan; spring was a time to start seeds.  Summer brought hoeing, watering, weeding, and the first harvest of green beans, cucumbers, and tomatoes.  

Since I have never been very talented at growing food, I helped to harvest it.  To this day, I still love picking and shucking corn.  I still gag at the smell of tomato plants.  My back and knees hold the memories of stooping to pick green beans (ouch!).   

I also learned to take the bounty from our two small gardens and turn them into delicious dishes.  These meals are my way of giving thanks, not only to the earth, but also to those who worked so hard to plant and tend these edible gifts. 

Food is tangible.  We can touch it, smell it, and taste it.  Nature is also tangible.  The concept of god(s) is not something we can see, taste, hear, or touch.   It isn’t even something that I proclaim to feel all that often.   
I won’t go so far as to say food is a manifestation of the Divine.  If it were, wouldn’t everyone have enough?  Would there still be starving people in the world?  I would hope not.   What I will say, however, is harvesting and preparing food and giving food to those who need it helps me feel a closer connection to the Divine.  

Nowadays, most of us don’t have gardens.  We don’t depend on our own agricultural efforts, but we do depend on the agricultural efforts and talents of others.   In these modern times, we can get strawberries in January (yuck) if we want them or asparagus in October.   Food is grown all over and shipped great distances.   Most of us don’t even know where the majority of our food comes from, let alone have an actual hand in its production.   I count myself in that group.  I try to know where my food comes from, yet I still don’t grow it or slaughter it myself.     Our connection is waning, but I am trying to get some of that connection back.   I long to feel a deeper connection to the Earth.  From there, I believe that I will feel the essence of the Divine.  

Sure, I’ve plucked chickens and helped cut up venison and such, but it’s been a long time.  I haven’t lived with my parents for many years, and I can’t really do much in this little trailer park.  What I can do, though, is support local farmers by buying locally and seasonally.  I can show my gratitude to them in that way.  
Other ways in which I practice my path in the kitchen include being mindful and trying not to waste food.  I admit that things do sometimes get pushed to the back of the refrigerator and forgotten about for a while, though.  I’m a good cook but a lousy housekeeper.   

I used to identify with the term ‘kitchen witch’.  I suppose I still do identify with it to some extent.   Once upon a time, I read and researched the magical properties of certain fruits, vegetables, herbs, grains, and nuts.   My goal was to include ingredients with similar energies into my recipes and to make meals that were harmonious as well as delicious.  I strived to make foods for certain purposes.  I devised recipes for love and prosperity.  To this day, I swear my Prosperity Shortbread recipe helped me land a new job after I left that horrible high school teaching gig.

Currently, my focus is a bit different.  I still try to keep similar energies together when I combine ingredients, but it isn’t a prime concern.  I still cook with intent.  Maybe I’ve read Como Agua Para Chocolate too many times, but I don’t like to cook when I’m angry, for fear of putting negativity into my food.   I still feel that my emotions could affect the outcome of the meal.  Maybe it won’t affect the diners’ emotions outright, but I don’t think anyone should have to ingest another person’s stress or anger.

Even though I still feel that the Divine may not be terribly invested in humanity, I still chant when I knead dough.  I say prayers for the health and well-being of those who eat what I prepare.  I try to prepare everything with a peaceful mind and a grateful heart.  I am grateful for the food itself, for some people have little or none.  I am grateful for those who eat the food because it means I have friends and family.    To me, that’s what it’s all about. 

To me, it isn’t about casting a spell for love by making an apple pie.  Instead, it’s more about recognizing the end of the year and enjoying the sweetness of the apple pie and sharing it with someone I love.   That, to me, is recognition of the Divine:  Love.  

It all boils down to love and thankfulness.   That’s where I am on my journey to the Divine right now.  It could change, of course, and it most likely will.  That’s what happens when people grow.    When I make a family recipe, I feel love and gratitude.   When the seasons change and different produce is available, I feel gratitude.  I am alive, and that’s a gift.  

There you have it.  My path is about love, gratitude, and a reverence for the life that grows upon this planet.  My path is about nourishing bodies with things that grow in nature and about feeding people’s spirits as well.  I am trying to spread the love around.

Sit at my table, and I will feed you.  I will set before you a plate of food that has been cooked with love.  I will share with you not only a plate of roast and vegetables, but also my sincere hope that you push away from the table with a full belly AND a full heart.    That is how I experience the Divine. 

Eat up. 

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