Why is it that when the fridge is full to bursting with garden-fresh produce, I can still find myself reaching for a box of Cheez-Its? It’s happened more than once this week, and as someone who writes a blog about fresh food, I am more than a little embarrassed.
I know that the answer has to do with convenience. I’ve been especially busy this week, with so many things to do that I generally haven’t thought about food until my stomach is already growling. Once this week, I actually felt faint from hunger before I could force myself to get up from my computer (where I do most of my work) and head to the kitchen to make some sort of lunch. Extreme hunger is not conducive to good cooking. It’s conducive to stuffing your face with the first thing you can find. Hence the Cheez-Its.
Well, recognizing this problem has led me to come up with a couple of ways that I can prioritize fresh food for myself and my family.
Number 1: When I am in a busy work period, I can make sure there are always fast and easy fresh foods available. Not all fresh foods are as time-consuming to prepare as the watermelon that has been lingering in my fridge uncut. I’ve been avoiding buying other fruit because I know there’s more than enough watermelon there for a week’s worth of eating, and yet somehow I just haven’t gotten around to slicing it. But I know that I need to do one of two things today: either cut that watermelon and have it waiting, ready-to-eat, in the fridge, or buy some fruits that are already ready-to-eat, like peaches, apples, or grapes. Other wholesome, ready-to-eat foods that I do try to keep on hand are cheese, yogurt, and homemade baked goods, like granola or muffins. (I’m baking a pan of granola as I write this.) And a satisfying lunch can always be made from a couple of fried eggs on a bun. (A homemade pickle on the side doesn’t hurt.)
Number 2: I can make food preparation a ritual. How is it that I’ve convinced myself that I don’t have time for something as important as my family’s health…and the pleasure of eating fresh, well-prepared food? Aren’t the times we spend around the table and the food we put into our bodies two of the most sacred ingredients of our lives? Health–both physical and emotional–are found at this table. And no matter how much pressure I feel to work and earn more, or how many television commercials I see for take-out pizza (which, let’s face it, is just white flour with a little cheese-ish material sprinkled on top), I need to remember that meals are sacred. As dinnertime approaches, it’s time to drop everything and head to the kitchen. And if I get home from work or errands so late that everyone’s already hungry, it’s time to break out those fast and easy fresh snacks to hold them over until I can get the meal prepared.
Food preparation, I need to remind myself, is not just another mundane task like vacuuming or dusting but an activity that is creative of the very life of my family. It may not always be as interesting as the writing or research I’m doing (though sometimes it is), but it is a necessary and worthy part of each day. And honestly, sometimes my brain needs a break. Sometimes I need a task as repetitive as shelling peas, chopping onions, doing yet another pile of dishes. (And preparing fresh food does make a lot of dirty dishes.) Taking the time to prepare fresh food may be important not just because of the end product–food that is delicious, nutritious, and overwhelmingly satisfying–but because of the process. Cooking can become a sort of meditation. A culinary prayer. A daily devotion of the hands. A time to remember where that food has come from, where it’s going, and how lucky I am to be part of the circle of life.
It’s hard to think about food that way and simultaneously reach for a box of Cheez-Its.
At least I hope so.