Rare and lovely are moments in which we learn something new about ourselves. I never expected to learn anything new about me, today. And then I did.
The Stop and Type Books co-hosted Mark Bittman tonight on his tour for The Food Matters Cookbook. I went mostly because he’s Bittman and I’ve been reading his work as long as I’ve been reading about eating. He would tell me about the catastrophic state of our diet and food system, he would encourage us to eat fewer cows and chickens, he would laud The Stop’s fine work (with good reason). I’d return home, self-satisfied - consciously or not – with my mostly plant-based diet as I cooked dinner.
This didn’t happen.
Instead, Mark Bittman taught me that I’m a cook.
Cooking is buried so deep within my hungry stomach that I forget it’s there. In all the ephemeral bits that make up Maria, cooking is the constant. Do you remember when David Foster Wallace’s old fish said to the two young fish swimming along — “Morning, boys. How’s the water?”
The cooks at our family restaurant didn’t push away a curious little girl. My mom gave me her wooden spoon and her trust to stir the tomato sauce. Now, I imagine dinner as I comb market stalls on Saturday mornings.
And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes: ”What the hell is water?”
I’ve never felt gratitude that I just cook. It takes a lot for me to remember that cooking every day to feed myself is not the norm. It isn’t that most North Americans just don’t cook. Many can’t cook – never having been taught basic skills to follow a recipe – let alone to see dinner in raw ingredients. Most non-cooks are not lazy or too busy or lacking discipline.
I made sense of this last night, finally, as I listened. “Cooking is easy!” I say. But I’m wrong. To someone who has never turned on a burner, or bought fresh produce, or learned the basics of storing food, or honed proper knife skills – cooking is hard.
I want to remember this. When I cook from heart or create a recipe, each time I suggest an “easy substitution” for an ingredient, as I help a friend cook dinner, and always as I feed others. I want to consciously not assume. I want to remember that it’s easy for me, but for me this is water.