A simple answer to some of life’s big questions

Sonia WalkerMay 15th, 2014  |   () comments

I’ve always loved cooking since I was a little kid.  Now don’t get me wrong – as a busy working Mum these days I find the daily grind of putting something on the dinner table and filling lunchboxes quite stressful.  It’s groundhog day every time, trying to dish up (a) in a timely manner before the anklebiters become gremlins, and (b) something that everyone is willing to eat. I relish the moments when someone else relieves me of that pressure even for just one meal.

But give me a Sunday off and for some bizarre reason there is nothing I’d rather do than lose myself in the kitchen for the afternoon – preserving vegetables, baking for the kids lunch boxes, making granola, or basics for the fridge like mayonnaise, umami paste, raspberry cordial, or a lamb navarin casserole for the freezer.  It does make me wonder – why am I so drawn to the kitchen? 

Image courtesy of WeHeartIt.com

Finally I found the answer in a book I’m reading at the moment – “Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation”, by Michael Pollan.  It’s on the New York Times Best Seller list and is a journey of discovery as to how humans have used the four classical elelements – fire, water, air and earth – to transform the stuff of nature into nourishing food.  It’s a fascinating read, but the best bits are in the first few pages.  The author discovers that the answer to many of life’s biggest questions are one and the same:  Cook.

The personal questions:

  • What is the single most important thing we can do as a family to improve our health and general well-being?
  • What would be a good way to connect with our teenage son?  (It turned out this was the specialised form of cooking known as brewing.)

The political questions:

  • What is the most important thing an ordinary person can do to help reform the food system, to make it healthier and more sustainable?
  • How can people living in a highly specialised consumer economy reduce their sense of dependence and achieve a greater degree of self-sufficiency?

And then the deeper more philosophical questions:

  • How, in our everyday lives, can we acquire a deeper understanding of the natural world and our species’ peculiar role in it?

Aha!  Of course – this is the appeal of the kitchen.  It is a place where we can feel connected to nature, and to our people. Why, when we make new friends, we invite them over to dinner to share a meal. And why preparing a meal that brings our loved ones together around the table can bring so much joy. It's why Sunday night roasts are important. (Not that I know how to cook a Sunday night roast mind you - but I suddenly feel compelled to try.)

Arguably, the fact that we cook our food is the one thing that truly differentiates us from all other species on earth.  It’s a fundamental aspect of what makes us human.

I cook.  Therefore I am.

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