Reads, Writes, Eats and Cooks
Can we call it eating together if we are not sharing from the same pot?
It involves a labor of love to honor the individual tastes of my blended family. Given the vast difference in culinary traditions, we could either alternate between Bengali and American food or create a mix. The few meals we can all eat from the same pot are almost exclusively Western, like Swedish meatballs, chicken stew, spaghetti and meatballs, chili and beef stew. Jim joins us Wednesday night when Atiya and I have our vegetable and fish focused Bengali food. Tuesday and Saturdays, take out or eat out nights, we eat separate individual dishes. My hope is to eat once a week from the same pot.
Food writer, Michael Pollan, writes about his experiment with “Microwave night” as resulting in one of the most disjointed family dinners he had since his son was a toddler. The 37 minutes it took to heat up the three separate dinners was not much of a time saver or worth the “airplane” food quality. The concludes his story by summarizing,
“The fact that each of us was eating something different completely altered the experience of (speaking loosely) eating together. Beginning in the supermarket, the food industry had cleverly segmented us, by marketing a different kind of food to each demographic in the household (if I may so refer to my family), the better to sell us more of it. Individualism is always good for sales, sharing so much less so. But the segmentation continued through the serial microwaving and the unsynchronized eating. At the table, we were each preoccupied with our own entree, making sure it was hot and trying to decide how successfully it simulated the dish it purported to be and if we really liked it. Very little about the meal was shared; the single serving portions served to disconnect us from on another, nearly as much as from the origins of this food, which, beyond the familiar logos, we could only guess at. Microwave night was a notably individualistic experience, marked by centrifugal energies, a certain opaqueness, and, after it was all over, a remarkable quantity of trash. It was, in other words, a lot life modern life.
Pollan talks extensively and poetically about the virtues of the pot. The pot:
… is a kind of second stomach, an external organ of digestion that allows us to consume plants …
… bears the traces of all the meals that have been cooked in it, and there a sense (even if it is only a superstition) in which all those past meals somehow inform and improve the current one. A good pot hold memories.
… what emerges from this or any other pot is not food for the eyes so much as for the nose, a primordial Dionysian soup, but evolving in reverse, decomposing rather than creating them. To eat from the pot always involves at least a little leap into unknown waters.
And finally referring back to “Microwave night,”
This might sound like a sentimental conceit, but compare the one-pot dinner to the sort of meal(s) that typically emerge from the microwave: a succession of single-serving portions, each attempting to simulate a different cuisine and hit a different demographic, with no two of those portions ever ready to eat at the same time. If the first gastronomic revolution unfolded under the sign of community, gathered around the animal roasting on the fire, and the second that of the family, gathered around the stew pot, then the third one, now well under way, seems to be consecrated to the individual: Have it your way. Whereas the motto hovering over every great pot is the same one stamped on the coins in our pocket: E pluribus unum.
I dedicate my fancy new red le crueset pot to good memories, leaps into the unknown and gathering together. At least for one night a week.
Wishing you one-pot meals,