I like the kind of menus where ingredients are sourced. You know, "Salad of Hill Farm Limestone Lettuce with Iowa Maytag Blue-Cheese, Terra Ranch Scallions & Peaches, Sonoma County Olive Oil & Meyer Lemon." I have been known to drive twenty miles, or walk twenty blocks, out of my way to eat at a Persian or vegetarian restaurant, or even a barbeque shack or samosa hut or arepa cart I've heard about. I grow many of my own vegetables, and I'm a fool for heirloom varieties with wonderful names: this year I have a tomato called Aunt Sallie's, and I'm back for more with Japanese Trifele and Green Zebra. You'll find nightfall and anasazi beans beside the pintos in my kitchen, as well as three kinds of paprika (sweet, hot, and smoked), 6 kinds of chiles (cayenne, Thai, red chile powder, ancho, and smoked jalepenos, both dry and in adobo), to say nothing of 3 kinds of salt, four kinds of vanilla, and powdered sumac. I make my own preserves, pickles, and rumtopf. I gather my own nettles, purslane, and lamb's quarter each spring and when I steam them I just love, just love, drinking their distinctive pot likkers. Though I haven't eaten meat for many years now, in my past I ate not just steak and burgers and kebabs, but the hearts, livers, kidneys, lungs, and thymus glands (sweetbreads) of those animals I ate, animals which included not just beef-lamb-chicken-pig, but goat, squirrel, rabbit, and ground hog. I write, among other things, cookbooks, and one of them won the fancy-ass James Beard Award. And no matter how many times I drive over to Walpole, New Hampshire, for a latte and pastry at Burdick's, I close my eyes and grow silent in the pleasure of that first bite of perfect madeleine.
But call me a foodie, and, as the immortal Merle Haggard sang many years back, "You're walking on the fightin' side of me."
Would you call a priest a Godie? A novelist or English professor or poet a wordie? A pyschologist a mindie? Don't diminish, please, what to me is not just the object (a particular madeleine or minestrone), not just the sensual pleasure dervived from experiencing that object, but a line of inquiry that starts with the cup or plate or bowl in front of me, and what is filling it, and how it got there, and how it is prepared and by whom… and ends with the universe. There are those who engage in food as entertainment, as a quick glance at TVFN will tell you. Perhaps, to someone who participates in or watches, let's say, "Chocolate Cake Smackdown!" the word might not seem an insult. But put a piece of chocolate cake before me, and I taste, along with the moistness of the crumb, the butter in the icing, the cocoa or melted chocolate, the egginess, the tenderness imparted by, say, buttermilk and the soupcon of coffee or orange or vanilla (Tahitian? Bourbon?), history, connection, and mystery. I taste the Aztecs (who drank their ___, unsweetned and with chile) and the Conquistadors, the journey chocolate took back to Europe where it was combined with that continents wheat flour and dairy products and sugar (which at that time….). I taste agriculture (the cacao bean …). I taste commerce, trade. nationality. I taste heartbreak (where are those Aztecs now?) . I taste trends ( ), and I taste timelessness. Each bite locates me in, and links me to, the world.
Not that at the same time I might not be thinking, "Wow." Or, "I'd really like a glass of cold milk with this."Not that eating is always a transcendent and thoughtful vocation to me: I've been known to stress-eat a pint of Ben & Jerry's Coffee Heath Bar Crunch in what is one more or less mindless inhalation, or to quickly pop a frozen pizza in the oven (albeit the ) because I am under deadline or packing or otherwise too busy to cook.
But. Compared to the countless lettuce heads I have picked from my own garden, washed leaf by leaf, spun dry, blotted with a paper towel, and turned into salads that are thoughtfully exquisite? The times that, in the moment of silence that is, to me, saying grace, I think of the countless hands it has taken to bring me what I am about to eat — well, it would take several truckloads of Ben & Jerry's to outweigh my deeper considerations of food and the act of eating, an act I view as sacremental. And while, over the years, I might have stress-inhaled a wheelbarrow's worth, say, of Coffee-Heath Bar Crunch, it'd be a small wheelbarrow indeed.