How to Cook Your Life

Remember my dear friend Katie ? Last time I saw her, she loaned me a DVD titled " How to Cook Your Life ."  It is neither a DVD ...

Remember my dear friend Katie? Last time I saw her, she loaned me a DVD titled "How to Cook Your Life."  It is neither a DVD with recipes (go here for a related cookbook) or cooking techniques (read this if you want to learn about cooking), nor a didactic tutorial about how to live your life (go here or here if you want to hear some great dharma talks), but somewhere in between.  The content of the movie was not mindblowing, but some of the videos of his teacher were adorable.

The movie's main subject is Zen master and chef Edward Espé Brown ("EEB") views on how to inject mindfulness into the act of cooking and to a lesser degree, the cultivation of food and the eating of it.

If you haven't been introduced to the Buddhist concept of mindfulness, it's really easy.  I always think of the movie Spaceballs in this scene.  It's about being at now.  We've let go of the past, we're not thinking about the future.  We align our thoughts and our actions to the present moment.   It's also about being and feeling connected to the life around us. 

EEB's main critique of how we cook and eat is that we've surrendered our participation in nourishing our body and spirit in favor of simply feeding our stomach.  EEB contends that cooking is a perfect opportunity to practice the dharma (both the path and things we know to be true in our own lives) and to practice mindfulness.  When participate in cooking for ourselves and others, we're able to connect to the ingredients that make up a dish in a meaningful way (to clean it, to prepare it) that isn't available when we toss a pre-made factory-created abomination in the microwave.  The repetitive motions of chopping or kneading can be soothing and peaceful if we allow ourselves the time and space to take joy in the preparation.  When we cook mindfully, we respect and care for the ingredient as much as we respect and care for the intended recipient of the dish.

On some level you know this to be true.  How many times has someone said that the secret ingredient in the dish the recipe you're dying to know is "love"?  Why do you think Irma Rombauer named her book "The Joy of Cooking"?  I think deep down we all know that cooking is more than just cramming preparing calories for our bodies.  It's more than just taking raw ingredients and making something of them.  It how we connect with the goodness of the universe (to the sun [photosynthesis], to the earth, to other animals) and how we connect with our community/family/friends ("sangha").  Mindful cooking is our loving and doting grandmother singing while making peach pancakes in the morning with peaches that grew on a tree outside the kitchen window.

One of my favorite parts of the movie was the running theme of not wasting food because it looks imperfect (Disclaimer:  Rotten food is gross and I'm not advocating dumpster diving.), being able to laugh at ourselves in the kitchen (see Julia Child at work if you need permission to laugh), and forgiving ourselves when a dish doesn't come out perfectly.  Like Joni Mitchell sang, "Hey, farmer, farmer, put away that D.D.T., now! Give me spots on my apples, but leave me the birds and the bees."  In our effort for perfect-looking food, we have willingly ingested poisons. We have allowed corporations to tell us what food should look, smell, and taste like.  But I could rant about this all day long.  The point EEB makes is about being creative and resourceful in the kitchen.

So.... doot da do.... In sum:
  • If you want to know more about mindful eating, check out Thich Nhat Hahn's book, Savor or The Center for Mindful Eating's Web site.
  • Chew 20 times before swallowing.
  • Our bodies are paradise.  And we should treat it as such by nourishing it in every moment, in every movement.  Don't reduce cooking and eating to some chemistry equation with a straw in it.  Do not abdicate your duty to your whole self.  You don't need to be Buddhist to believe that (heck, almost every major religion has pointers on how to care for your body, the physical manifestation of [chosen deity]'s love for you). 
  • And as Shunryu Suzuki said,  "Take care of things, and they will take care of you."

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3 comments

  1. When it comes to produce, we've traded taste for pretty:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/29/science/flavor-is-the-price-of-tomatoes-scarlet-hue-geneticists-say.html?_r=1

    http://www.npr.org/2012/05/17/152944880/bigger-means-better-not-with-strawberries

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  2. I've been cooking more for myself, and finding it so care-taking to do so. The books "Eating Mindfully" and "Eat, Drink, & Be Mindful" by Dr. Susan Albers have really helped me.

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  3. Carolyn -- most definitely -- it's sad to see so many great tasting fruits and veggies lose their spirit, to the point they become unrecognizable.

    EaaPtY: i try to "pre-load" the mindfulness -- as in if I can't make all of my meals fresh, I try to spend sunday/tuesday/thursday preparing with enough love for leftovers.

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