Monday, January 2, 2012

Cooking is Subversive

I've been working a bit with the Occupy Wall Street folks in New York, who are putting together a cookbook, and it's gotten me thinking about the subversive nature of simply picking up a knife and preparing your own dinner.

When you cook for yourself instead of reheating processed convenience food, you opt out of the garbage that the mainstream food industry wants you to eat. Cooking for yourself is a way of thinking for yourself, choosing not to believe all of the advertisements telling you that it’s too hard, or takes too much time, or you’ll never make it taste as good as the celebrity chef who’s got his name on the package.

Don’t believe it. Don’t let any celebrity chef ever convince you that you don’t know the right way to hold a knife, chop an onion, or bone a chicken. There are as many ways to hold a knife as there are people handling knives. You may be able to learn some tricks that will make you more efficient, or make your cooking look more professional. But in the end, as long as you cook something reasonably tasty, don’t hurt yourself, and don’t make anyone sick, then you’ve done something right, regardless of how you’re holding your knife or slicing your onion.

Cooking is a subversive act because it involves taking back the power to choose every ingredient in your meal, making the decision to buy from folks who give a damn about the people who work for them and about the soil, air, and water. When you buy ingredients from small farmers, you support individuals and families who have chosen to make a living outside of the mainstream food system. They’re usually kinder to to their land than industrial operations, and they make their own calls about what they’re going to grow, and where they’re going to sell it.

Shopping at a farmers’ market is a subversive act. When you choose heirloom fruits and vegetables rather than tasteless, industrial varieties, you do your part to preserve ancient plant knowledge and species diversity. At a farmers’ market you have the chance to buy ingredients from farmers who use age-old seeds and knowledge to produce tasty, healthy food, rather than squeezing as much low quality produce as they can out of land that’s already tired.

Shopping at a farmers’ market or joining a community supported agriculture program is a subversive act because you’re doing your part to help build on alternative economy, one that doesn’t rely on multinational corporations or transnational trucking firms. You’re paying for the fruits and vegetables that you actually get, rather than spending extra money for the services of middlemen who jack up the price of your groceries without giving back anything of value.

When you cook for yourself and plan your meals around fresh, local ingredients, you buy from people who keep your money close to home, as they turn around and support other local businesses instead of extracting profits that ultimately go to a corporate office in a distant city. When independent businesses can generate their own livelihood, fewer people are at the mercy of low paying jobs with companies that charge obscenely low prices for products made by people who work for even lower wages in developing nations.

Cooking is a subversive act because it is a magnet that brings people together to work collectively, gathering and prepping ingredients, and then sitting down and enjoying the results, taking time to exchange thoughts and ideas, visiting face to face instead of through a computer screen. Cooking creates connections, providing a meeting place with cooperation at its root. Cooking with a community involves sharing skills, and building something bigger than the work of lonely individuals. Cooking and sitting down to meals is time that you don’t spend working, shopping, or watching television.

Cooking is a subversive act because it brings different cultures together to enjoy each other’s food, creating connections instead of going to war. Strangers are less strange once you have tasted their recipes and sat at their tables. Each individual act of connecting to someone who is unlike yourself, someone the media teaches you to fear, helps to defang the myth that the world is a hostile place, and weapons are the only solution.

Cooking is a subversive act because it gives you control over your health. The better you eat, the more likely you are to are to get up and do something rather than sitting on the couch. The better you eat, the less you need to support the mainstream medical industry, and the less you rely on highly profitable pharmaceutical drugs and an insurance industry that doesn’t insure much. Using your own judgment and developing your own knowledge base about the way for you to eat makes you less vulnerable to bogus claims on food labels telling you that a product will help your heart, boost your energy level, or keep you regular.

Cooking for yourself is a process of getting to know your own needs and your own mind. The more you produce your own food, the more your food choices depend on what you really want and need, rather than what the food industry wants you to buy so they’ll make more money. Choosing your own ingredients allows you to tune into the ways that different foods affect your well being and your metabolism, and choose combinations that help you thrive.

Learning about your own food allergies and sensitivities gives you the knowledge and power to heal yourself, and stay alert and engaged. Cooking for yourself allows you to choose your own portion size, figuring out how much food you really need, and it allows you to choose the right amount of salt for your meals, rather than consuming all of the extra sodium that convenience food manufacturers add to their products so they’ll last long on supermarket shelves while they’re sitting and waiting for you to buy them.

Cooking is easy, once you get past the idea that you have to make something complicated and dazzling. Use good, fresh ingredients, and prepare them simply. Practice and build your skills. Learn from the folks around you, and share your own knowledge. Cooking is power. Cooking is wealth. Cooking is subversive.