The Ingredients of Nourishment

It is one thing to be fed, another to be nourished.

Michael Pollan has written a new book, and when I read this review of it in the New York Times, I thought of our tiny kitchen and how two cooks bump against each other in it. How I am constantly washing dishes, the old-fashioned way in a dishpan, while staring out the window at the neighbors kitchen window across the driveway. There are a lot of dishes, because there is a lot of cooking. Spinach omelettes for breakfast and lentil stew for lunch. Homemade yogurt and pickles and veggie burgers. Giant pots full of chili.

We buy ingredients, and when I say ingredients I mean it the way Bittman and Pollan speak of it....elements of food in their rawest, most natural versions sliced and diced and sauteed. Transformed, as Pollan calls it. We fill mason jars from the bulk bins with dried beans and quinoa, sugar and salt. We pick out radishes and kale and mushrooms. We buy five dollar a dozen eggs, with deep yellow yolks. We have well-worn cookbooks, stained with splatters from saucepans and drips from the jug of oil. Our  house smells like food, onions sizzling in butter or the pungent odor of cabbage fermenting, the starchy humidity of grains bubbling in a rice cooker, the buttery smell of cookies baking.

Before the whole Katy's-body-freaks-out-over-gluten thing, we didn't think so much about what we ate...not in terms of health, anyway. What we sought was a different kind of nourishment...food that was rich or filling or tasted of the land on which it grew. Food that was fun to eat. Food that we would be delighted to share with guests, should someone happen across our doorstep.

We spend a lot of money on food and we spend a lot of time in the kitchen. Sometimes I'm tempted to think that it is not a good use of time because it's hard to quantify in earning power or dollars how this is benefitting our family. It just seems like an expense we could be cutting back on, or time that could be spent working. 

Pollan argues, however, that this sort of behavior....cooking from scratch, as we call it....could be the answer to the epidemic of health problems our country is facing. There are no weird chemical preservatives in homemade food. No ingredients you can't pronounce. You pick out higher quality vegetables to chop up, and use them in a fresher state. It's a pain to deep fry potatoes, so you are less likely to make things like french fries and more likely to bake or boil them. 

Instead of fighting battles with big food companies to make processed food healthier, or labels easier to understand, people should just be encouraged to cook at home more. From scratch. With stuff they bought on the perimeter of the grocery store. 

It's going to take more than encouragement. People don't know how to cook. We need a giant home ec class for the whole country.


Anonymous said...

I cooked a giant pot of beans yesterday and thought of you guys, as I do every time I cook beans and often times when I am cooking from scratch in the kitchen.


Anonymous said...

I think your home ec idea is a really interesting frame for presenting cooking from scratch. Maybe it's the retro appeal. I also wonder if people would take to a 'home ec' night the way people have embraced the Meatless Monday idea.