Increasingly people find themselves at a disconnect with the all that surrounds them. We understand less of what we encounter on a daily basis, whether by choice or by the inability to comprehend a world as complex as the one in which we live. We bite into a New York Strip Steak with little real appreciation of how it came to be, most of us never having slaughtered a chicken much less a cow. Everyday we use machines we couldn’t invent from scratch if given three lifetimes in which to do so. We’re surrounded by complex inventions, such as the computer and automobile, themselves made up of hundreds of smaller inventions each of which have been innovated and improved upon hundreds and thousands of times.
Gone are the days when, at the very least, humans had a relatively clear understanding of how manmade things were produced. We are, with increasing rapidity, becoming figments of a complex collective imagination. Everything that surrounds us from the chair your sitting on to the watch on your wrist first had it’s form in the imagination of someone else, it started as an idea, and these figments of our collective imagination have become our reality, not something we take to be synthetic or a creation, we no longer think “oh Bob the blacksmith down the lane made this, my shoes were made by Jethro the cobbler, or the wheels on that wagon were made by Tim down in his wagon shop. I saw him cutting down saplings to make them, ” but just “oh a pen, comb, street, sidewalk, stove, oven or TV”. We put on shoes not because we remember when we had to go barefoot and how painful it was but because that is the “natural” thing for us to do. The line between the naturally occurring and the created is becoming blurred, not because we can’t tell the difference if it becomes necessitous to do so, blurred because the distinction is not readily made or observed as it was in the past. One looks up and sees a plane, one looks up and sees a bird, both are just part the world that is.
Our food items come from containers and boxes we buy in supermarkets, lit by hundreds of fluorescent lights, disconnected from the field, tree, or animal from whence they came. What’s stranger buying a salmon fillet lying on a slab of Styrofoam, wrapped in plastic from the grocery store or catching it yourself, cutting the head off, cutting out its organs and eating it? I would say the majority of people would pick the later to be the more foreign of the two. Numerous times I’ve heard people deride hunters and hunting as barbaric and cruel , even though they eat meat and wear leather themselves. It’s funny and ironic, like the time a carnie at the fair reprimanded my friend for dropping the f bomb by telling him “he didn’t want to hear that shit, there are goddamn families about” but it also shows the disconnect people have with reality, they don’t really think of eating an animal as killing it because they didn’t kill the animal.
We’ve become disconnected from our natural selves and are becoming something all together different, beings of a collective complex imagination that may reach a point someday where our humanity is transcended. A man looks at himself in the mirror and recognizes himself as a man, his manicured hair, beardless face, trimmed fingernails and toenails but would he recognize himself in his true state; hairy, bearded and with claws?
We need to reconnect with our natural selves from time to time and for me one great way to do that is through the ritual of preparing food, gaining an understanding of how what we’re eating was made. There’s something soothing about seeing the raw ingredients laid out on the kitchen counter knowing that in a few short hours it will be transformed into something delicious, or at least something edible. Food we understand, have put time, effort, and hopefully love into creating is going to be enjoyed and savored a lot more than a burger we got at a drive though window for a dollar. You’re not going to eat the seared wasabi tuna with steamed asparagus and mashed potatoes from scratch you spent an hour and a half making speeding along in your car as you run over the tasks still left to complete on your to do list before close of the day, you’re going to enjoy it even if it doesn’t turn out so as great as you wanted you’re going to sit and enjoy it. Maybe you’ll light some candles, have some wine, who knows, but you’ve taken the time to create and enjoy something, a simple joy in a simple everyday task that is becoming a lost art to many.
It doesn’t have to be an elaborately prepared meal, it can be something as simple as taking an interest in your morning cup of coffee, tasting it, savoring it, instead of just belting it down in the underground on the way to work. You realize the cup of coffee you had yesterday from the hipster coffee shop on the corner tasted different than the one you had from Starbeans and you wonder why. From your office cube, during a lull in whatever it is do, you go online and start Googling around about coffee, maybe pull up a few articles on Wikipedia about different varieties of beans, roasts, grinders, methods of preparation. Maybe the next step is ordering a grinder, then a French press, followed by a siphon and, voila, you are connected to your coffee. You have more of an understanding of what it is and more importantly you have a ritual that allows you to have a deeper connection to yourself.
I look forward to the ritual of waking up every morning and feeling the weight of my Japanese grinder in my hand, a wave of warmth and calm washes over me as I sit and turn the handle and feel the ceramic blades pulverizing the beans into the grind of my desired consistency. I sit and watch the mountain from the picture window above my kitchen table, the whistle of the kettle eventually calls me back from the snow covered peak and I empty the grinder into the French press, followed by the boiling water. The room fills with the scent of roasted coffee. It steeps and I wait. I pour a cup for myself and one for my wife. It’s the same every morning, I am not doing anything but making and drinking coffee but it’s a meaningful, simplistic, and relaxing part of my day.
I don’t want the self grinding alarm clock coffee brew station that’s going to order me more coffee from Starbeans when I need it, allow me to keep updated on the news and check Facebook from the breakfast table. I ultimately would like to feel somewhat involved in the creation of my food, even if it’s only in a small way. I would much rather go down to the open air market and haggle with octogenarians over the price of their fruits, vegetables, and fish than shop in the in the eerily sterile, over lit, mega grocery chain market. I’m not suggesting we all need to turn into foodies that won’t shop anywhere but the uber-hip faux mom and pop organic market down the street, just that we need to enjoy the simple pleasures in life we so often write off as inconveniences. We don’t need to let what we eat define us but we should be able to define what it is we’re eating, have some semblance of a sense where and how it originated.
Too often these days we simply exist in a temperature controlled, emotionless vacuum, never wanting to be hot or cold, never wanting to wash a dish or cook a meal, opting to drive everywhere when a simple walk down a moon lit street would do us wonders, both physically and mentally. If we lose these simple joys we lose what it is to be human. It’s strange that as humanity understands more of the natural world around them the world we create becomes increasingly more confusing, and the things that have helped us understand and subdue the natural world, mathematics, science, machinery, and computers, are what is causing it to become more confusing.
I often wonder if the prevalent attitude toward the earth and nature isn’t some subconscious form of payback , taken too far, for the millions of years we spent on the receiving end; fighting to stay alive, hiding from predators, cursing the snow, and spreading smoking human blood on our crops in hopes we would receive a bountiful harvest. If we don’t somehow want to make ourselves into machines or at least untouchable gods that can peer down from on high at the ruined wilds from whence we came, to live in a world of our own creation where we are insulated from fear, sickness, and pain, eventually any emotion at all, floating unstimulated blobs who have forgotten how to live but are fixated on existing as long as they can. That may be stretching it but there are days out there in that mess when it doesn’t seem so far off, days when I need to come home and get my hands full of flour and butter, to inhale the smell of sautéing mushrooms or bubbling Thai curry. To feel as though maybe, just maybe, we’ve got a fighting chance.
Columnist Joshua Lorenzo Newett is a novelist, entrepreneur, and English professor at The Korean Naval Academy in Jinhae, South Korea. Saving Bill Murray, his second novel, will be published in June 2013.
Organic Food Image courtesy of Shutterstock