My Cooking Philosophy: The Holistic Food System
I started cooking about six years ago. One fateful day of watching Emeril Live late at night changed my life. After seeing Emeril make tomato soup and grilled cheese, I was completely hooked. In the years since that 2004 summer, cooking has become one of my greatest passions. Eating is an even bigger one :). Cooking and eating are my mediums to exploring the world – learning about new cultures, sharing special moments with family and friends, and continually seeking out new information that just blew me away. Cooking is my way of relaxing after a stressful day at work. I honestly look forward to cooking, everyday, and nothing gives me greater pleasure than being able to make a great meal and share it.
But just like any hobby, I wanted to know more and learn more. Perhaps it is the social scientist in me (I did graduate with a political science degree), but I constantly seek to answer the big questions. Why is cooking so important to me? What does it mean to love cooking? What can I do to make this passion even greater? As I got to thinking about these questions, I realized that food is much more than a cultural exchange. In fact, eating is a necessity – we must do it in order to survive. As such, food is as much an issue of economic and political importance as it is of cultural exploration. The politics of food are astounding and it’s honestly a topic that one could have an entire blog about.
When I was in India a few years ago for my cousin’s wedding, I couldn’t help but notice the difference in the food systems. I would go to the market with my grandmother and was amazed at the level of detail and specialization that exists within the food system there. Where we live in India, Gujarat, and specifically in her town, Navsari, the concept of a grocery store doesn’t exist. My grandmother goes to a specific vendor for butter, another for bread, down the street for the vegetable guy, and across town for a chicken (a live one, at that!). There is an actual milk man that comes every morning, delivering fresh milk that was extracted that morning. How awesome is this?! She had a relationship with each and everyone of these people. She had known them and their family for several decades. The vendors call her by her first name and ask about the family, how the grandkids and now, great grandkids are doing. If there is particularly good produce, they make sure to tell her about it. And these people know produce because they grow everything just outside the city. There is a strong connection between people and their food – and quality is the highest concern.
Here in the States, even when I started cooking, I never had that type of connection. I would go to a grocery store and in one fell swoop, pick up vegetables from California, frozen fish from Alaska, fruits from Georgia, or beer from Europe. The cashiers would ask me if a jalapeño pepper was a bell pepper. Seriously? You work in a grocery store, at least know the produce! For all I know, the food was treated with chemicals, juiced up on steroids, and sometimes not that tasty. You could find melons during winter and pumpkins during the summer. Nothing made sense. It was weird.
So, in the past year or so, I’ve really come to understand that there is an importance to buying fresh, local products from really great artisans. The choices we make as we cook really make an impact on the politics and economics of the food system. By buying your produce from local farms and farmer’s markets, you help the local economy. More importantly, you know where your food comes from, how it was grown, and who took that extra special care to pick it and deliver it to you fresh. You get the freshest and highest quality product you can. You know people are taking care to make sure the food you eat is grown properly and you can rest assured knowing you’ve done something great for your family and the local community.
In addition, I’ve come to eat seasonally. At certain times of the year, it’s the peak growing season of certain produce. For example, the fall is full of deep, hearty greens, great winter squashes, and apples. There is no better time of the year than now to eat these products. Once the spring hits, we can eat fresh peas and await the great summer tomatoes and peppers. You get to eat the best, when it’s at its best.
As I continue my epicurean adventures, I wanted to share this philosophy with you. It’s how I approach cooking because now, I understand that it’s more than just being able to cook. Cooking is a holistic process that is political, economic, and cultural all at the same time. I love cooking. But I love it even more when I get to use fresh, seasonal, and organic local produce. I get a lot of satisfaction out of supporting people I know care about the products they put forth and take pride in their craft. At the end of the day, it just makes me happy.