Every big event in our lives is celebrated with a feast. This custom has probably been with us since the early days of civilization when priests would demand a sacrifice to ensure the continued success of the community. Now it seems we have outgrown ourselves. We rarely come together as a community and even families don’t gather daily for meals for which our parents and grandparents would give thanks. Many of us have even lost the knowledge of how pleasurable it is to prepare a meal for family and friends. Instead we worship celebrity chefs (and celebrities are accorded god-like status). This worship has made many people fearful of cooking. For all but an intrepid few, the joy has been taken out of cooking.
Cooking is a way to connect with family and friends. It does not have to be an “Iron Chef” style competition or as elaborate as a Christmas dinner. Most of the time, preparing a simple delicious meal is a form of meditation a Zen Master would be proud of. Devote some time to choosing ingredients. Have kids and other adults help so one person does not do everything and dinner becomes a chore. Remember, cooking is easy! It used to be done without electric ovens, fancy cookware, food processors, Corian counter-tops, recessed lighting and ultra-quiet dishwashers. All of these things make it easier to prepare meals faster so you can get back to the rest of life’s distractions.
So this is where food and philosophy meet. Simple recipes, family, community, simple techniques, information about food, money saving tips on how to eat seasonally and more locally all come together here at Culinary Philosopher. The recipes presented are the things my family eats. My wife and I firmly believe that families should eat together. Incidentally, my wife, Cindy, is responsible for editing my horribly jumbled thoughts into cohesive sentences and getting them onto this blog. She is editor, web master, graphic designer, food taster, and life partner all rolled into one.
Sorry….where was I? I had to go water my jasmine plant. Oh yes, on to philosophy. In sixth grade, we learned that civilization was based on the division of labor. We each do something different and trade goods and services so each gets what we need and the community thrives….Perhaps some day meals will be doled out in great dining halls. Even then, we will be eating as a community. Now we spend lots of money on great kitchens to make fish sticks and frozen pizza. (I love that little girl in the fish stick commercial, “Have you ever caught a minced fish?”) Speaking of commercials, there are a lot of medicines being sold to help keep us healthy at the same time our super markets are filled with foods that have ingredients we don’t know. Making your dinner, at least, will afford you the opportunity to know what you are eating which can’t be said of even the finest restaurants.
Delicious food is easy to make and it is essential that it be delicious. The enjoyment of food is part of a good life. This is another nexus where cooking meets philosophy. There are cultures that devote countless volumes on how to eat and be healthy through food. Delicious food is easy to prepare. Start with great ingredients, add a few simple techniques then all you need is the family and friends.
To maintain health it is becoming increasingly obvious that there are certain things which will make us sick if eaten too often or in large quantities, alcohol is an obvious example. Fat is essential to our well being but if too much is consumed our bodies will react badly. Oils should be consumed sparingly and we should eat the ones that taste the best. Many of the best olive oils I have ever tasted were organic expeller-pressed oils from the first cold press. Be wary of gerneric sounding things like vegetable oil or vegetables shortening and use oil sparingly. We have all seen a celebrity chef pour liberal amounts of oil into a pan when only 2 or 3 tablespoons would be necessary. It’s expensive, wasteful, and unhealthy.
In nature there are symbiotic relationships where two different organisms live together and each benefits. No, I am not talking about my wife, although I hope she considers our relationship beneficial. I know I do. I am speaking of the microbes, we harbor in our guts. They are essential to our good health. The digestive system is the first line of defense in our immune system and it functions better with an army of friendly bacterium and yeasts behind it. We should replenish these allies whenever possible and it’s delicious too. Kefir, cheese, and yogurt all have beneficial cultures. Pickled foods are often fermented which provide beneficial yeasts; so is fresh beer. Forget pasteurized beer and drink a local fresh beer. Pasteurization helps beer make the cross country trek and helps it last months on end on store shelves without refrigeration. Drink local. A small amount is good for most people.
During a recent conversation with the CEO of a large dairy concern, I mentioned that grass fed cows produced better tasting milk. He became very excited, agreeing with me and telling me that it was higher in essential fatty acids and that the cows were healthier. I asked why we don’t just feed them grass instead of grain. He answered that it was impossible in the winter. I left with two things from that conversation: Animals should be allowed to eat what they were designed to eat, they will be healthier and healthy for us to consume their products; and that in the north it is not always possible. Extrapolating a bit, we would be healthier if we ate what evolution designed us to eat and I am not sure how polysorbate 60 fits in there.
Organic and bio-dynamic farming methods are making their way into markets. This is very encouraging. As a chef I have had the chance to see the best of all farm products and food grown the old-fashioned way tastes better.
We have all had a chance to see and taste heirloom tomatoes. If you haven’t, you must. They are gorgeous and taste incredible. The more of these products we buy and enjoy, the more they will be economically viable and available to enhance our tables. More and more stores are offering organic products. Whether this is marketing and hype remains to be seen, but if we demand it we can shift farming methods significantly and be healthier for it. More on this topic later.
This boils down to 10 principles that drive CulinaryPhilosopher.com, where you find recipes, techniques, a bit of philosophy, and advice about enjoying food. Join the discussion, ask some questions, display your own dazzling philosophy about food.
Here are the 10 principles which guide me:
- Food is central to our families and our communities
- Great food and cooking should be accessible to everyone
- Complete nutrition is a basic human right
- Food should be: as fresh as possible; as whole as possible; and as local as possible
- Whenever possible eat seasonally
- Fats should be chosen very carefully to meet our nutritional needs
- It is essential that food be delicious
- Pro-biotics are important for a healthy immune system; eat cultured and fermented foods
- Livestock should be fed as nature intended, ie. cows are herbivores, they should not eat meat and their young should drink their mother’s milk
- Organic and bio-dynamic farming should replace modern farming methods