Saturday, November 20, 2010

Communicating with food

Following is an essay I wrote for Anthony Bourdain’s Raw Food Challenge to explain ‘Food Well Done.’ It didn’t win – didn’t even make the top ten! – but I thought it came out well and I don’t want pass up the opportunity to share it further. Writing is all about communication, yes?

Food – a gift from the gods that sustains life. Food well done transcends mere sustenance and elevates life to that of the divine. Fresh, simple, prepared with care and attention to the innate qualities of each morsel, there is no more universal way to nurture the mind, body and spirit.

Breaking bread together appears in humanities’ earliest traditions. It is a sign of hospitality, of communion, of an end to hostilities. Whether presented as a state banquet, a wedding feast, or a family dinner, sharing a meal brings people together. It offers a time to pause from the frantic pace of everyday life, a time to share not only food but thoughts and ideas. It’s been suggested that early man started eating in groups to make sure no one took more than a fair share, and while that may be true, it’s a good bet the joys of simple camaraderie overtook greed as supplies became more secure. Food well done satiates the senses. It breaks down barriers, dissolves our selfishness, and reveals our largess.

From the early Roman sculpted grapes of Bacchus to Cezanne’s Still Life with Fruit Basket to the sensuous morsels in Chocolat, food is often the focal point of art. Whether in painting, literature, or music, food is commemorated because it is central to our existence. We begin our lives suckling and, if we are fortunate, our passing is celebrated with a joyful wake of good wine and comfort food for family and friends.

On a more immediate level, food well done can effectively communicate, nourish, seduce and placate. It is a sublime method of personal expression. Each nation, each culture, each individual has a unique way of selecting, preparing and sharing the food indigenous to their locale. Similarities abound and serve to highlight our global connectedness, yet the subtle differences and regional adaptations emphasize the individual needs and tastes of each community. Whether as Indian naan, Middle East pita, Mexican tortilla, or any of another thousand variations, man has found ways to combine simple grains and local spices into a staple recognized around the world. When everything on the plate is strangely exotic, go for the bread.

Food well done defies convention and dogma. It crosses boundaries in ways few other things are able. It is beyond description, and beyond compare. We know it when we see it, and when we taste it. It just is.

And here’s the winning entry, if you care to compare…comments always welcome!

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