While I realize that for some people cooking can be a stressful experience, for me it is a spiritual experience. As I have read the stories of so many chefs, those well known (i.e. celebrity chefs) and those who most of us have never heard of, I have come to realize that for all too many people food saved their lives. Food, for so many chefs, is not just food. It has become the vehicle through which they found a deeper relationship with themselves, with their Higher Power, and with others. Food for them, and the preparation of it, is a spiritual experience.
Cooking for me is like that as well. There are so many ways in which food and the preparation of it is spiritual. Recently, I read a quote by Heather Ash Amara who wrote “When we live our life as art we make room for creativity, flow, connection, synchronicity, and magic.” I told Heather that I could easily say this about food as well. When I cook as art, then I make room for creativity, flow, connection, synchronicity, and magic.” I have come to realize that food is not just food. Peanut butter is not just peanut butter. Flour is not just flour. An orange is not just an orange. It is what it is, but there is so much more to any food item, then meets the eye. What we see is just a glimpse into all that it has to often. Food is like people. There is more to every piece of food just as there is more to every person then meets the eye.
Yes you could put me into categories and say I am a 54 year old (not much longer), biracial lesbian with a disability who is a professor, spiritual companion, partner, writer, mother and sister. However, none of that tells you about me. You can take an orange and put it into categories, but it is more then just a navel orange from California for example. There is the scent, the sweetness, the juiciness, the texture, and what it brings out in other food items that become a part of what it is.
When I think about preparing a meal and each food item as a tool in my artistic palette, my creativity becomes unfettered. I am no longer just throwing something together to feed my family; I am creating a mixture of tastes, colors, and textures. I am working to create something which when you look upon it, will make you take a moment and appreciate its beauty. I am thinking about creating an aroma which makes you react as friends did this past Tuesday night “oh my gosh, that smells amazing.” What they smelled was the blend of the Caribbean spices the tofu had been marinating and stir frying in. this was mixed with the sweetness of the three different types of bell peppers (orange, yellow and green), the garlic, and the onion. Not only did this dish look like a rainbow with all the different colors; it smelled heavenly.
When I am in the midst of creating something to share with my friends and family, I lose all sense of time. I get absorbed in the smells, the textures, the colors, and the experience of creating this dish.
Food connects us to each other. When you stop and think about it for a moment, how many of our opportunities for socialization and community building happen over food. Food can create a mood. How many of us, when planning a romantic evening, don’t think about something special or some place special where the place, the food, and the music contribute to the creation of something bigger then any of it by themselves. We connect over food, we share experiences through food, and we develop community over food.
The other night, Zoë and I invited a few people over for dinner. A friend of mine ate his first vegan meal and after nervously trying the tofu said it reminded him of meatloaf. As we laughed, talked, and connected over a mango salsa, chips, Caribbean tofu, and a few glasses of wine new connections were made, friendships were started, and we each learned something new about each other. We were all so caught up in the magic that none of us realized that a dinner which began at 6:30 was ending after 11. One thing I know for sure, this will not be the last time we share a vegan meal together.