Friday, April 22, 2011


For me, the deep satisfaction I find in gardening and food preparation occurs because it is a combination of what Kropotkin called "brain work and manual work". If I sit in front of a computer too long, or read for hours, I start to feel detached from the world around me, not to mention headachey and restless. But I can't be happy running on a track or treadmill; I need meaningful exercise that accomplishes something and gets my mind to work as well.

Working with food also connects me to the earth. It grounds me; I am in the present when I am working, not daydreaming of the future or dwelling on the past. My senses are attuned to the smell of newly-turned dirt, to the moment when the bread dough becomes smooth and elastic under my hands, to the buzz of a heat-dazed fly emerging from hibernation.

These experiences were a part of my childhood, and have become kinetic memories for me. I realized this three years ago, when I was helping my father plant a garden, and picked up a rake to tamp down the earth over a row of beans. I hadn't gardened in years, but my arms and hands knew how much pressure to put on the rake, at what angle to hold it, and how to move efficiently down the row.

Discussing the deskilling of the consumer, JoAnn Jaffe and Michael Gertler* put it like this:

"Food production has traditionally been learned through apprenticeship, with children learning first-hand while their mothers cook. These skills are sentient, practical, and in some senses non-discursive forms of consciousness, with the learner acquiring a knack, or a feel, that comes with the continual engagement with the physical and sensual qualities of food. (This is exemplified in the experienced cook’s instructions to add a pinch of this or a smidgen of that, or to knead until the dough is elastic.) It requires a fine-tuning of all the senses – a good cook knows how things ought to taste, smell, look, feel, and sometimes even sound through different stages of the cooking process. She recognizes off-notes and textures. Cooking involves body knowledge, such as the movement required to whip an egg, knead biscuit dough, or skillfully cut a chicken. Putting together a meal involves juggling several tasks at once."

I didn't remember that it was Earth Day today until half way through the afternoon. Unconsciously, however, I chose an activity for Earth Day that, for me, connects me to my history, my environment, the production of farmers in my region, and my family - my future. I am using my mother's recipe to bake bread.

Happy Earth Day.

*Jaffe, J. & Gertler, M. (2006). Victual vicissitudes: Consumer deskilling and the (gendered)
transformation of food systems. Agriculture and Human Values, 23, 143–162.

1 comment:

  1. This is great - thanks for posting. And your bread looks very yummy too.