Food and Relationships
Getting to the Heart (of the artichoke and other things.)
or How Food Reminds us of Rituals
Ode to an Artichoke: Pablo Neruda
Scale by scale,
We strip off
The peaceful mush
Of its green heart.
I've been staying with my friend Jen for a few weeks. Tonight I steam artichokes and we eat them in the soft light of her living room while outside the window the sky darkens behind the pink blossoming cherry tree. We're winding down at the end of a day and a crazy weekend. We're talking about men, about our disappointments at things said and things unsaid in past relationships. Both of us are single and we'd like to find a good guy and settle down.
So I take the artichokes off the stove and put them on a plate with two bowls of dipping sauce-- butter and something else fattening. And we sit and talk and eat artichokes, pull off the wet succulent leaves and put them to our mouths, sliding the leaf flesh off with our teeth.
It's quiet outside and the trees look black against the blue sky. She's disappointed about something an old boyfriend said to her recently and I can relate. So I listen. We pull off the leaves and talk and without thinking get into the habit, the ritual that the food teaches: pull off the leaf, put it to mouth, slide off the leaf flesh: leaf after leaf after leaf we eat and slowly we feel better.
Eating like this reminds me that when done slowly, eating is more than just habit, but ritual.
As humans we need rituals to keep us centered and grounded. And I'm not talking about the ritual of peeling open a frozen meal, popping open the microwave, waiting for the “ding!” then eating quickly so we can get to A) B) or C).
Slow food is good not only nutritionally, but because when we eat slowly and naturally, the food preparation, the eating and the cleaning-up gives us rituals that help our lives. And when we grow our own food, or at least find its source, this ritual is extended and deepened even more. And in the process of slowing down, we can peel away the layers of our surface conversations with our loved ones... and we can get to the heart of the matter.
Sure, I don’t really get how busy life can be, especially for parents with young children. But why can’t our eating time be a refuge from the hectic schedule that we have to juggle. Why can’t it be a celebration of some kind. Why can’t it be a feast? A daily feast. A few months ago, I heard a program on NPR called The Family Dinner Reconstructed. It talks about how studies show that children from families who eat together were less likely to smoke, do drugs have drinking problems and were less prone to depression and less likely to develop eating disorders. Check it out. It talks about how the quality of conversation at meal time was also a very strong predicter for language aquisition in kids.
Getting to the heart of the artichoke is my favorite part. I dug out the little prickly pins on the leaf-side of the artichoke and then took cut the soft heart with my fork and ate it in a few pieces. When Jen got to the heart, she ate it quite differently. I had to catch myself from telling her how to eat it. She picked up the thing and ate it from the opposite direction. Though a shared ritual, eating is also be individual.
After eating our artichokes and seeing the pile of discarded and toothed leafs laying in a clump of purple and green pile on our plates… I thought, what an apt metaphor for relationships this little artichoke makes. Before it’s cooked, it’s tough and prickly and you’d think you couldn’t eat it. It takes patience and time to get to the heart. Just like with people. Perhaps there's a reason why something so prickly can only be accessed one leaf at a time. And why it takes awhile to get to the heart of the matter.
I bought these artichokes at Harry and David's in Medford, Oregon.
An exuberant gentlemen was excited to give me his secret for making them.
Add lemons to keep greenness
2-3 Bay Leaves
Cook it in 3 inches of water with the lid on, till the leaves are soft.