Mindless repetition is tedious, while mindful repetition is meditative. This is the lesson I learned as I washed large bins of cremini mushrooms. Individually. For three hours. Before you judge, the preferred method of wiping mushrooms would’ve taken even longer. So in all her wisdom and experience, Chef Liz of Second Helpings suggested I wash the rescued grocery mushrooms. Smart chef.
Spending a considerable amount of time devoted to a single task as any craftsman, line cook, factory worker knows, makes one REALLY absorb the material. I can close my eyes and smell the earthy ground, feel the difference between firm and fresh mushrooms versus slimy, spongy mushrooms, I can follow the curves, the fragile stems. Given these were rescue mushrooms, my mode of inspection was heightened in order to discard anything fuzzy and green.
Yes, there were moments when I felt the weight of the repetitive task and hoped my time with the mushrooms would end. I also knew that soon these mushrooms would be sliced, roasted and then added to dishes that would feed so many. I suppose it is this stretch of the imagination and shared work that brings all of us volunteers into the kitchen everyday.
Admittedly, there was something else besides such abstract musings of a beneficent outcome. I had an odd sense of being present with this mushroom held under a stream of water. Everything else receded. It was strange that I could oscillate between complete mushroom awareness and complete mushroom annoyance. This explains so much about how I live life. I feel always immersed and burdened at the same time.
I wonder how you emotionally and intellectually process repetitive peeling, chopping, washing, stirring, shaping or wrapping. Thoughts?
Here is one thought I found in the essay, “The Nourishing Arts,” by Michel de Certeau and Luce Giard (from Food and Culture: A Reader edited by Carole Counihan and Penny Van Esterik)
I discovered bit by bit not the pleasure of eating good meals (I am seldom drawn to solitary delights), but that of manipulating raw material, of organizing, combining, modifying, and inventing. I learned the tranquil joy of anticipated hospitality, when one prepares a meal to share with friends the same way in which one composes a party tune or draws: with moving hands, careful fingers, the whole body inhabited with the rhythm of working and the mind awakening, freed from its own poderousness, flitting from idea to memory, finally seizing on a certain chain of thought, and then modulating this tattered writing once again. Thus, surreptitiously and without suspecting it, I had been invested with the secret, tenacious pleasure of doing-cooking.
… The sophisticated ritualization of basic gestures has thus become more dear to me than the persistence of words and texts, because body techniques seem better protected from the superficiality of fashion, and also, a more profound and heavier material faithfulness is at play there, a way of being-in-the-world and making it one’s home.
That’s my story for today.
Wishing you all good food stories,
For those of you, hungry philosophers, in the Indianapolis area please check out this amazing organization with a three-pronged mission to rescue food, cook for the community and train people to enter the food industry.