Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The accompaniment of food

I've meant for this blog to be devoted to food, but I've found that I haven't been writing much about food lately (or writing much at all). I think the problem is this...I'm not a cook, but rather someone who appreciates the systems and communities that surround, support or control food. I've spent much of the last 8 months re-thinking how I eat, where I buy my food and how I make my food, to the point that much of what were first new practices have now become habits.

I regularly shop at the farmer's market--every week we buy farm eggs and raw, grass-fed milk from farmers whose practices and ethics I trust. I incorporate raw honey, coconut oil, whole grains, cod liver oil, raw butter and grass-fed meats into our diet regularly. My most recent goal has been to incorporate whole beans into our menu weekly, because I recently read that beans are the most effective cancer preventer (more so than medical treatment). In short, I'm not trying many new things because I'm happy with the diet we've developed. I'm not a food artist, I don't want to regularly try out new combinations, new ingredients and new methods. I just want healthy food. So my focus on food has now become, rather than the leading role of my thoughts, instead an accompaniment to our lives. Micael and I make a good meal on a Tuesday night, perhaps soaking rice or beans the night before and planning our schedules so that we can fit in a trip to the market and a 3 hour bean cooking, all so that we can sit down together and be, together. We're planning our wedding, often talking about logistics and details, often getting excited about family and friends coming to Seattle in August. We're talking about work and school, and our minor excitements or boredoms with either. We're dreaming about the future, about sleeping in on Saturday, about a new record he wants to buy, or a new book I want to read. Food is our accompaniment to all of this.

In reality, I'm also feeling the need for a new challenge. I will graduate from UW in December and I'm ready to be done. I'm ready to move on, but I don't know to what. I want, like we all want, something to make me excited, something to motivate me. I thought, for awhile, that I would do something related to food. But I'm realizing that's not what I want. I appreciate food as the backdrop for our lives, for its essential role in creating physically healthy lives, but it is only one element in a life well lived. I want to continue to explore those other elements--mental, emotional, spiritual, even other aspects of the physical. I want to stop being a student and objectively analyzing how others promote 'the good', 'the moral' or 'the healthy'. I want to dive in and practice what I, after studying so much, truly believe to be the good, the moral, the healthy. I want to stop analyzing, and start believing, in something.

For now, here is a photo of our most recent accompaniment. Black beans and brown rice, chard sauteed in butter, olive oil and lemon, and spicy lamb sausages from Pike Place. All shared eating on our living room floor (we have no space for a table) on a Tuesday night.

Around the house with Bri and Micael

Crushing garlic in our mortar and pestle

Reaching into the spice section for some crushed red pepper

Double tulips I bought at the Ballard farmer's market last week

Sour cream, dill, paprika, cayenne, jalapeno...all for a delicious fish taco sauce

Micael listening to music on his new turntable

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Portuguese fado

Micael and I are trying to figure out what music to use for our wedding ceremony. We both love Spanish guitar, flamenco and fado--basically any music from the Iberian peninsula. We spent hours last night on looking up music. We listened to the Beatles, Santana, Ricky Martin...we also re-found Mariza. She's a fado legend--beautiful, 6 foot tall Portuguese woman that sings with the most amazing, soulful power.

Here is Mariza singing 'Primavera'...

Culture at work in religion

I'm a TA at University of Washington again this quarter. This is my second year teaching this series of classes, so I'm pretty familiar with the material, but they still manage to challenge my own thinking about life and issues I find important. I'm currently teaching a class in the International Studies department titled 'Intercultural Relations in an Interdependent World'. The premise of the course is to challenge students to understand their own cultural presuppositions and those of other cultures by learning social theories (a la Max Weber, and others) to interpret how cultures are built and reinforced.

An example: Max Weber. Weber says that systems of ideas (such as religion) have the power to shape other institutions, such as politics and economics, rather than, as Marx says, religion is used to *justify* societal institutions such as politics and economics. Basically, do we believe that ideas have power in and of themselves to make huge social shifts, or are ideas only used to back up our sociopolitical and socioeconomic needs? For anyone that is religious, spiritual, philosophical, mystical, you probably tend to believe that ideas have the power to shape institutions. But there are other groups that are a bit more cynical and believe that humans have base instincts toward power and survival that instruct their behavior, and ideas are used only to reinforce the systems that serve these power-seekers.

Being a student and TA, I go back and forth about what I believe. Having studied religion academically for 3 years, I'm now more skeptical about religion's pure motives. I see how religions change shape over space and time to adapt to local needs, to adapt to sociopolitical and economic realities, to adapt to emotional anxieties. But, after studying this so much, I've also come to believe that humans do more than just seek survival, that they can appreciate an idea for its own sake, can introduce a new idea when the old system has become defunct. So I see religions doing both things: justifying ideas for the sake of a political, economical or emotional need, and also introducing new ideas simply for the sake of changing the system for the better.

The most recent example I encountered was yesterday: Rene Girard, his theory of violence, and his conversion to Christianity. Girard says that humans desire what their enemy wants, then fight with him over it, leading to an unending cycle of violence that is interrupted only by a ritual sacrifice (scapegoat). When Girard started studying Christianity, he was an atheist. But after coming to the conclusion that the purpose of Christ's death was to teach his community that this cycle of violence and revenge was pointless, and that innocent scapegoats were often sacrificed, Girard decided to become a Christian. He was impressed by this idea that religion could teach men how to transcend their base instincts.

I'm also impressed by that idea. But the next question that comes to me is this: how can I practice a religion using these interpretations of its meanings, when so many in the same religion have different interpretations (i.e. Christ was a sacrifice for our sins--something I do not believe) that really turn me off? There are so few that practice faith in a way that I find inspiring, and even those who do often can slip into using it to justify or advance certain purposes. This is one of the many reasons I've backed off from any practice for the last few years. How do we have faith in a God beyond ourselves when all our rituals of worship struggle just to get past our own mundane needs and limitations?

I don't know the answer. I don't know how to have faith in so many things that used to inspire me (philanthropic orgs, religion, NGO's, environmental movements) when I can now see many of the motivations behind these movements as well as their downfalls. Aid to Haiti right now is a great example--there are those that argue that foreign aid is actually crippling to other countries because it props us corrupt governments and keeps these countries reliant on wealthier countries and their handouts. So then, what the heck do we do to help Haiti?

Even without answers, I think I'm past the worst of my cynicism. I'm coming into a place where I can have faith in ideas for their own sake, even given their limited ability to solve problems or given their potential for ulterior motives. Actually, reading Mark Helprin gives me faith in ideas and beauty for their own sake. If you've never read him, you need to. He writes about beauty in the midst of the most horrible, devastating situations, such as war, and he gives you hope that if not reason and order, then there is at least hope and beauty always around us, always possible. I'm going to keep reading Helprin, and keep believing in the possibility of Good.