Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Work of Food

[Drafter's Note: I am all about convenience--really, I am. This girl ate frozen pre-made soup from Trader Joe's tonight. But in general, and certainly ideologically, this is me.]

I score the hard red skin, and slice the top low enough to expose the ruby kernels inside, as I've been instructed in the how-to. The small globe comes apart easily enough in my hands, but it is careful work to pull back clingy membrane and creamy pith, and small reward to hear the tinkle of seed-laden jewels pile onto the favorite orange plate below.

Curled up on the couch and dragging the last rubies from the plate with my lips, I dismiss returning to the kitchen to attack the second half of the fruit. "This is too much work," I mutter to myself. But even before the words have piled on the plate below, I realize that this is part of my love affair with food, with cooking and eating and sharing plates. I love the work of it. I love that it is more than seeing or shoveling in. 

I love the work of Brussels sprouts, neatly cleaning off the withered outer layers and dividing them carefully on the bamboo board: dissected ovals, fading green to a center white on the right side, a rumpled pile of dark leaves on the left. I love the work of grapefruit--the old way, with a knife and my grandmother's toothed spoons, and my new way, segmenting and pulling pulp from membrane with fingertips and tongue, leaving a carcass on the plate. I love the work of bread, the necessity of hands, the way the smooth yeasty ball slides and resists sliding as it has done in every woman's hands for ten thousand years. I love the mirrored work of cinnamon rolls, the way they are the only food of my mother's that I can exactly reproduce--the spread of brown sugar over a canvas of butter, the deft slice of the roll, the prying away layers of still-steaming happiness on a plate. Even Oreos and Reese's cups--there are rituals, patterns that make the food what it is, more than it is. 

I am mistrustful of food that requires no work: microwave-ready potatoes, pre-cut celery, frozen waffles. There is something larger than the portion on the plate, something necessary for me: the pile of skins swept into the disposal, the neat geometry of a chef's knife and a board, starch and dirt to be washed away. It isn't only the ladle into the bowl, but the stemmed tears, neat slices, hard sizzle, and perfect smell of onions in a cast iron pan. We don't just have food--we make it. And that has to be more than opening a bag or pushing a button.

I work at food because it is a language to me, a way of speaking when even my words fail. How would I fully taste from the fork what my hands couldn't remember as a process? How would someone know I loved them if the hands that made the food weren't mine? 

No comments:

Post a Comment