Expressing thanks for our many blessings, chief among them good and ample food, should come naturally. But in our American world of plenty, it can be hard to feel honest-to-goodness gratitude when we sit down to eat. Few of us are wondering whether there will be food on our plates tomorrow; the only real issue is what we’ll choose to eat.
In spite of this, I’ve observed that when I take personal responsibility for my food–either by growing, gathering, or cooking it myself–gratitude comes easily. Watching a loaf of bread rise or seeing how lettuce sprouts in the garden puts me in touch with a mysterious force, and this, I think, maybe a missing link, a necessary starting point for gratitude.
One obstacle to feeling thankful, then, may be the striking disconnect around food within our culture. What we eat appears to many of us to originate at the grocery store, and so what is there to be grateful for? And there is an exchange that may also interfere: I offer money and receive food in return. Everyone gets something and so, again, is there anything more to be grateful for than the dollar that enabled the deal?
In and around the kitchen, there is a different energy exchange, one I can’t fully explain though I can describe it. I mix flour and water and together these turn into bread. I put cucumbers and salt into a crock and get pickles ten days later. I put seeds in the soil and get vegetables and herbs, which I turn into salads, soups and more. These are wonders, all of them. And I am amazed by transformations that I can never fully understand. I’m grateful, too, because they are powered by a force beyond my grasp, one I cannot touch or see but have learned to rely on as I work to put food on my table.
You could say, then, that instead of engaging in commerce I am engaging in a collaboration with a mysterious force, and it’s my connection to this force that stokes the fires of gratitude.
I’ve thought a lot lately about how to strengthen this connection, and about whether it might help to see cooking in the same fascinated way that children do: “Wow, how did those eggs whip up so fluffy and light? What made that cake rise? And look at those pickles; they were cucumbers before!”
I wonder if this might be a better way to inhabit the kitchen: with childlike curiosity and awe, and with an awareness that there’s mystery behind the creation of these foods. If it is, and I think it is, I suspect we might get there by slowing down and paying closer attention, by allowing ourselves to be surprised by the beauty of our ingredients and the magical way they turn into meals that nourish us.
Making room in our busy lives, enough to allow an everyday task that’s as useful and necessary as cooking to hold our attention and engage our imagination, is a gift we can give to ourselves. Growing food, gathering it in ways that are interesting and fun and, most of all, cooking are worth some time and effort because gratitude is the reward, and so is hope. These are necessary and uplifting feelings–and just right to hold within us as we begin a new year.
Copyright Ellen Arian, Ellen’s Food & Soul