One night, not long before I moved to Albuquerque, I cooked a sort of goodbye feast for me and my ex-boyfriend. The meal was made from the spoils of a day up on Arthur Ave, and contained unnecessarily excessive riches in the form of cheesy breadsticks, pasta, sausage and heavy cream. By the end, we were both stuffed, but I still wanted the chocolate I had bought for dessert.
"Not me," said Andrew. "I'm too full."
"Well, I'm going to have some," I said. "Sometimes I think I'd really excel as a competitive eater."
"Yeah," Andrew agreed.
"HEY!" I said, "You're not supposed to agree with me! That is NOT a good boyfriend response!"
"What?" he asked. "I love you, but do you want me to lie to you? Do you want me to tell you that the other night you didn't eat an order of cheese fries, a bacon-wrapped chili-cheese dog, three sliders, and another order of fries?"
My response? "In my defense, it was only two sliders."
Okay, yeah, I really love food.
I love eating food, I love cooking food, I love watching food on TV, I love talking about food. I loved waiting tables for a surprisingly long time, partly because I like talking to people but partly, I suspect, because I love food.
A number of people have suggested that I become a chef, or at least go to culinary school. I cannot state emphatically enough that I DO. NOT. WANT. THAT. I love cooking; it makes me very, very happy, and I don't want to turn it into something that doesn't. Cooking is an art, and if there's one thing I've learned about making art on a serious or competitive level, it's that you have to cultivate a willingness to hate yourself a lot. Pursuing something that requires such a high level of passion and self-expression is always going to be a love-hate relationship. And right now, my relationship to cooking is love-love.
Besides, I don't just love food, I'm interested in it.
Here's what I mean. When I was thirteen, I became a vegetarian. Back then, I wore my little thirteen-year-old heart on my thirteen-year-old sleeve, and I couldn't bear to think of all the living beings that were dying just so I could enjoy my Chickent McNuggets. Fast-forward seven years later: I'm twenty, I'm overweight, I'm lethargic, and I want a change. I've tried changing my diet and eating healthier before, but with little success. I have a sinking feeling I know what I have to do. I start eating meat again on a trial basis. And I immediately feel better, more alert, and more energetic. So, dilemma: do I sacrifice my morals or my health?
Over the years, as I grew and evolved, so did, obviously, my relationship to vegetarianism. Although I still cared - and care - about the well-being of all living creatures, the choice had become less about poor Wilbur and more about the spiritual and environmental consequences of eating meat without thought. We as a society just consume - just destroy and consume, and we don't really understand or appreciate how much we consume and destroy, because we've created system where we don't have to be aware of it and we don't have to give anything back in return for what we take. We just take, and we don't give back. It throws the whole system out of balance and that imbalance must certainly be destructive both to the world around us and to our own spirits. So far, my response to a system that I had observed to be broken had been to remove myself from it as entirely as possible. But didn't it make as much or better sense to try to bring balance back to the system by being a part of it? By being appreciative and aware within it, and attempting to give back as much as I took?
Okay, I thought. I'll eat meat again, but only if I do so respectfully and mindfully, and only if I accept the sacrifice that's been made for me, by sacrificing of my own time or money or whatever else I can to give back.
Friends, let me tell you: easier said than done. In the entire time that I lived in NYC I almost never found myself with sufficient time or funds to consume as mindfully as I wanted. I soothed myself by saying I was making up for it by having no car and living (through little choice of my own) incredibly austerely. But it's never felt like enough, and perhaps it never will feel like enough, and so I continue every day to strive toward honoring that promise.
That promise, coupled with my deep love of food, has made me increasingly obsessed with things like small farming, local and seasonal food, sustainable, organic practices and basically anything else that moves us away from the huge, corporate monoculture that is stripping our country's resources bare. It's something that I believe is vitally important, mentally, physically, spiritually, and environmentally. And, while I hope I've always been a conscious consumer, I've never had the time and money to give the cause the attention I know it needs to have.
And now... well, at least I have the time, and that's somewhere to start.