Among the drone of academia, the heat of relationships and temptations and distractions that abound on campus, a meal is often overlooked.
If I remember to eat a proper lunch, I try my best to contemplate from where it came. I ponder its ingredients, the building blocks from which we form meals. True appreciation of food is grounded in respect not only for its consumption, but for its beginnings.
I worked for years in a kitchen regarded as one of San Francisco’s elite. The food was expensive. A meal within the restaurant’s mohair-swathed dining room cost several hundred dollars. Virtues of respect and quality reigned in that sparkling kitchen. Every surface and corner gleamed. The product from which we created memorable meals was of the highest quality.
The produce came from the restaurant’s private farm nestled in the wispy fog of the Santa Cruz mountains. Several days a week, the restaurant would receive its produce order, often hand-delivered by the farmer who had sown it in the weeks or months before. He would talk to the cooks and chefs about the new variety of heirloom pumpkins he had for them in the fall, or how sweet and delicate his tomatoes were in the summer.
In spring, the restaurant featured lamb on the menu. Don the lamber would carry the animal, skinned, gutted and wrapped gently in a layer of cheese cloth, through the kitchen every week.
Interacting with the man who grew the restaurant’s tomatoes and raised and slaughtered the lamb provided me with an insight seldom afforded by the typical shopper. I learned that meats do not come in packages, and that a zucchini has a history far more colorful than its yawning existence on supermarket shelves. Food is the product of labor and sacrifice. Every vegetable is the result of sweat and toil. Animals are slaughtered to feed us.
When we learn where our food comes from, we garner a greater understanding of the sacrifices involved to bring dinner to the table. We can begin to celebrate our food in the way it truly deserves. While the trendy organic produce heralded in kitchens of four-starred privilege may be out of financial reach for the average student, we can certainly make efforts to cook and eat together. The toil of creation begets an emotional investment in food appreciated by both the cook and diner.
Grab a cookbook, make a meal and throw a party. Your friends will become kin and strangers will adore you.
I may not speak French or Italian, but I can tell stories with coq au vin or perfectly cooked pasta. When I look around at my fellow classmates and peers, noses buried in iPhones, digitally connected, but starved of conversational intimacy, the smell of freshly baked bread becomes music in any language.
As we turn away from our food and where it comes from, we turn away from the meals they make possible and the dining room conversation it inspires. The buzz of existence can quiet for a moment around a table. Mouths full, we have little choice but to listen to each other speak.
To observe its origins cultivates respect for the power of food, the universal language of humanity.
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