Here I am in the bulk aisle of the grocery store. I have come here to impress a woman. I want her to know that I can actually cook, rather than simply apply heat to processed foods. I am completely okay with the possibility that she will find this sexy.
But cooking is slow. The black beans I buy need to soak for something like four hours before I can even cook them. Brown rice requires fifty minutes of planning ahead before it can be eaten. Tomatoes and onions, purchased fresh, will need to be chopped, and not dumped from a can. Ideally, fresh produce will be from a once-a-week farmer’s market and, though I believe in locally-grown food and supporting local businesses, this requires more scheduling than reading the sourcing information at the grocery store. The black beans and rice I crave need almost a week’s notice before they can become a dinner I can serve this woman to get her to reward me with a smile.
Compare this with a trip to the prepared section of the same grocery store, which uses some locally sourced, mostly sanely produced ingredients to make convenient items I can bring home and eat without any preparation and very little thought. Total time to the table: about twenty minutes, including joining my fellow DC residents in the snaking “15 items or fewer” express lines. But, you know, I really like this woman, so I continue with my shopping and avoid the delicious macaroni and cheese tempting me on the hot prepared food table.
Somehow, by the time I’ve gotten home, cooking to impress has taken on a life of its own and I’ve made a deal with myself that I will make almost all the meals I eat at home from actual ingredients—the basic building blocks that cooperate to become food. I will have to cooperate with them, too.
Now my kitchen, mostly bare for years, is more or less fully stocked and I have to think about what I eat. My refrigerator is filled with expensive fresh vegetables that I have to be diligent about using. I have to make time for cooking, too. Beans and rice wait in jars in my cupboards, but they are useless to me if I haven’t put some thought into when I will eat them, so I have to think about when I will cook. Getting home late, like from a yoga class ending at 9:30 or 10:00, means I have to start making dinner before I leave the house.
I find myself preparing things that I may want to eat much later. The salad I made the other night, for example, didn’t get eaten tonight. I made it because I wanted to use the cucumber and peppers I had and I figured I could bring it for lunch. I haven’t fermented anything yet, but it’s probably only a matter of time.
Slow food is mindful food. I catch myself appreciating the aesthetics of what I eat—the shapes and colors of vegetables, the texture of tofu, the patterns on fish. The chopping, pouring, boiling, frying, and baking. Mindful food is holy food and holy food is shared. I consider how I can feed people with what I make, rather than just grabbing something for myself. The very idea of sharing food makes me enjoy what I’m cooking more. The satisfaction starts when I look in the cupboard or the fridge and begin mixing things in my mind.
I am eating less, and only in part because I am too lazy to cook more. Eating less means buying less and wasting less, which makes my food into a reminder of how much food we waste as a country.
None of this is earth-shattering. I have experienced much of this before (hence my ability to actually cook and understand what to buy in the bulk aisle), but it’s been a while, so it feels sort of like I’m returning to something I like about myself, starting something in the middle, which always feels good. I’m not sure if I’ve impressed the woman who revived this all in me. Maybe that will have to wait until I make pickles or something, but in the meantime she seems to like it when I go to the farmer’s market with her.