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Hello, stranger…

August 6, 2013
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For the past couple of months, I have immersed myself in the world of fiction.  After years of being away, I became submerged in mysteries, realistic fiction, and chic lit.  I enjoyed my time gleaning books off of others recommendations (thanks to Hopeful Leigh’s What I’m Into…and Mrs. Darcy’s Summer Reading List).  I spent hours reading, staying up later than I should and letting my house getting messier than it should.

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Yesterday, I returned though.  I picked up a nonfiction book and remembered exactly how much I loved reading a book and saying, AMEN!!! and YES!!!.  I realized that while fiction will waste away an afternoon or evening, nonfiction is to be savored a few bites at a time.

I was introduced to Michael Pollan a several years ago with his book, The Omnivore’s Dilemna.  This led me to Botany of Desire and the knowledge that I loved Michael Pollan’s writing.  Pollan took one thing–corn, an apple, a cow and extrapolated more than was imaginable.  I loved every minute of his in depth learning and analysis.  Thus, I was excited when I saw the title of his newest book:  Cooked.

For those who may not know me well, I love to cook.  I believe in the value of cooking your own meals, preserving your own food (when possible), buying split quarters of beef, and knowing where your food comes from.  Our family is part of a CSA, that we’ve been a part of since our middle child was around a year.  We used to drive to the farm and pick up our box.  I would chat with the farmer and he would occasionally call my husband for plumbing advice (my husband is a plumber, by trade).   The farm has since gotten considerably larger and we now pick up our box at Whole Foods and I don’t see the farmer any more, but I know where my veggies come from.   I know which vegetables I dread each season and which neighbors or friends are partial to summer squash or okra.  While I no longer eat only locally and seasonally, we keep pretty close to that–we supplement with fruit, sourced from as close as possible (not Chile or New Zealand, in other words), and lettuce and cilantro, which absolutely won’t grow in our terribly hot summers here.

That long paragraph is just a way of explaining how incredibly excited I was to see that Pollan had written a book called Cooked, another book about food.

I consider cooking one of my spiritual practices–not a spiritual practice of parenting, but a spiritual practice that transcends parenting.  There is something holy in making bread and sharing a loaf with a neighbor.  Many sacred moments occur as I prepare someone’s favorite dish or cake for their birthday.  Roasting vegetables from the farm (CSA) and topping them herbs I clipped from my herb garden allows me to thank God for the bounty, in a way that buying fresh produce from the grocery store doesn’t.

I must admit, I haven’t made it past the introduction of Cooked.  However, already I am vigorously nodding my head in agreement to Pollan’s words.  From his introduction:

To cook for the pleasure of it, to devote a portion of our leisure to it, is to declare our independence from the corporations seeking to organize our every waking moment…It is to reject the debilitating notion that, at least while we’re at home, production is best work done by someone else, and the only legitimate form of leisure is consumption.

Cooking has the power to transform more than plants and animals:  It transforms us, too, from mere consumers into producers…

…For is there any practice less selfish, any labor less alienated, any time less wasted, than preparing something delicious and nourishing for people you love?

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I am teaching in the storytelling room again this week for our church’s Vacation Bible School.  The theme is Neighbors–how do we love our neighbor.  With the groups, we talked about how we could be kind and friendly with our neighbors, our immediate-on-our-street neighbors.  In almost every group, children talked about sharing home cooked foods with their neighbors.   Food is integral to our faith and mission, whether it is feeding those who are physically hungry or sharing food as a way of showing acceptance (to new neighbors), support (in times of death, illness, or new baby), or love (knowing what your neighbor’s favorite cookie is and sharing it with her).  Home cooked food expresses these things much more than a box of cookies from the grocery store will.  There’s something about putting your own effort in the preparation that makes the food more meaningful (and usually taste better).

I find no small thing that all but one of our Bible stories this week involve food and eating with our neighbor.   From the very beginning of the Bible, the importance of food was evident–from the food Adam and Eve weren’t supposed to eat, to feasts that Joseph served his brothers in Egypt, to the banquets that Esther hosted for the King (ultimately leading to the death of Haman), to many of Jesus’s miracles, which involved food (seven loaves and fishes anyone?).  Even in Acts and Paul’s letters, food comes up—the importance of feasts and meals and eating with neighbors.  In our fast food, take-out, prepared food culture, I worry we are straying from the connection to the food.  In the name of convenience, we are wandering away from a key part of spirituality–the food we eat and share with our neighbors.

Nonfiction, how I’ve missed you.  I am thankful to be back in your pages, to be challenged to think, and to be reminded how the quotidian, those everyday things, are an act of thanksgiving and an act of love.

Now enough words….it’s time to use those figs we used to illustrate our Bible story these morning!

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