A Return to the Pleasure of Food and Our Connection With the Earth

Long ago in my grandmother’s garden, I walked with her between rows of beets, lettuce, tomatoes and unruly raspberries on our way to her currant bushes.

Once there, she told me the currant bushes came from cuttings she took from her mother’s garden years earlier. Kneeling before them in her own private form of benediction, she paused, and then with her yellow strainer and small pairing knife in hand she showed me how to pop the berries off the stem. We moved down the row in a joint rhythm. She’d cut the cluster and hand it to me to de-stem.

Her movements were always surer than mine and as she maneuvered through the garden I sensed that she was slowing down for me. The warmth, the scent, the variety of food within my reach distracted me. She told me stories about what she planted and why, and I was too young to understand the importance of what she was saying. I could only focus on the luminescent berries in my hand and imagine how they must taste.

When she wasn’t looking, I took a cluster between my thumb and index finger, I tilted my head back to face the sun and for a moment acted as if I were a Greek Goddess eating the fruit of the soil. While I pulled the stem slowly against my teeth, I felt each currant as it plopped on my tongue infused with a sun warmed tartness that surprised me. I looked at my grandmother and she was looking at me, smiling.

This is my natural history. It is why I feel compelled to plant in spring, to nurture and to harvest. The currants above are from cuttings my father took from my grandmother’s garden and grew himself, then handed down to me. I am now the fourth generation to carry this planting forward.

For me, these currants are a touchstone that puts me in touch with the source of life and offers me sustenance–both emotional and physical. Bringing these treasured berries into my kitchen to prepare brings me to the center of my familial experience. Here I am nourished and reconnected to family traditions and pleasure.

“Pleasure is a way of being at one with yourself and others.”

Carlo Petrini, Founder of Slow Food

I have come to believe that my walk in my grandmother’s garden is what real culture is about, developing taste and experiencing it with others.

For certainly, as we distance ourselves from planting, nurturing, harvesting and preparing our own food, we would do well to reconnect with our sense of pleasure.

If you are a seeker interested in exploring the many facets of our shared food culture, I invite you to follow my blog and use it to guide you as you develop a deeper connection with food.

One of the most useful roadmaps I can think to share with you before we journey on is the Slow Food International manifesto. Written by Slow Food Founder, Carlo Petrini, in 1989, it remains as relevant as ever:

“Our century, which began and has developed under the insignia of industrial civilization, first invented the machine and then took it as its life model.

We are enslaved by speed and have all succumbed to the same insidious virus: Fast Life, which disrupts our habits, pervades the privacy of our homes and forces us to eat Fast Foods.

To be worthy of the name, homo Sapiens should rid himself of speed before it reduces him to a species in danger of extinction.

A firm defense of quiet material pleasure is the only way to oppose the universal folly fo Fast Life.

May suitable doses of guaranteed sensual pleasure and slow, long-lasting enjoyment preserve us from the contagion of the multitude who mistake frenzy for efficiency.

Our defense should begin at the table with Slow Food. Let us discover the flavors and savors of regional cooking and banish the degrading effects of Fast Food.

In the name of productivity, Fast Life has changed our way of being and threatens our environment and our landscapes. So Slow Food is now the only truly progressive answer.

This is what real culture is about: developing taste rather than demeaning it. And what better way to set about this than an international exchange of experiences, knowledge, projects.

Slow food guarantees a better future. Slow Food is an idea that needs plenty of qualified supporters who can help turn this (slow) motion into an international movement, with the little seal as its symbol.”

Slow Food

Like my grandmother, Slow Food recognizes food as an element in an ever-evolving story that ties us together. Food informs us of the traditions we value enough to pass on, it shows us cultural diversity is a thing to be honored, not homogenized. It is food that joins us around the table with a sense of family, community, place and peace.

Today, my grandmother is gone, her garden space unused by her home’s new tenets. It is me that now harvests currants in a small garden with a yellow strainer and a paring knife. And, it is me that now has grandchildren of my own.

How best to impart the little I am certain of to them? That food is the vital source, the connecting rod with which we can celebrate the diverse expression’s of our earth’s bounty, encourage and appreciate creativity, passion and beauty while respecting and supporting the people who grow, produce, market and prepare our food?

I will water them with stories that give tribute to the traditions and skills worthy of being passed down and carried on. Together, like so long ago, we’ll face the sun and see what grows. I invite you to join in the journey.