Eating for enjoyment

Mac Watson

It’s still winter, for those of you who haven’t noticed. And as I spend my last winter on a meal plan at Lawrence, making the long trek through the cold two-plus times a day from Hiett to Downer, I’ve found myself thinking a lot about food. Thinking about all the good things I’m going to cook next year when I can cook for myself and have my own kitchen: all the healthy, organic produce I’m going to use in all the great homemade soups and breads I’ll make, and how I’ll never have to buy another Chunky canned soup or Ramen noodle again.
Well, given that I’ll (hopefully) be on the budget of a graduate student (in both time and money), living in an apartment that, except with the addition of a kitchen, will likely be worse than my current suite in Hiett, maybe all my food won’t be organic, and I probably won’t have the time to bake a fresh loaf of bread to put out on the windowsill of my apartment every morning. And I may still buy the occasional can o’ soup in a pinch.
Still, having control over the ingredients that go into my food and being able to choose what to cook for dinner every night, not just having to dip into the troughs at Downer, is something I’ve been looking forward to for at least three years. Cooking what I want will allow me to be more ethical, sustainable, healthy and satisfied with my food choices.
Part of my food angst stems from field experience this past summer in the Philippines, where we ate white rice with either a) okra, b) eggplant, c) dried fish with 90 percent of your daily salt allowance, d) canned tuna in a variety of flavors or e) a Filipino variant on the theme of Spam.
Eating purely for sustenance and never for enjoyment was a new experience for me, and made me much more appreciative of good-tasting, enjoyable food when it was available. And though I do realize that most of the world does not have the variety of good food available that Westerners are used to eating on a daily basis (a subject for another column), recognizing and appreciating the variety and possibility inherent in cooking and eating in America has become part of my own personal food philosophy.
Some people are vegans or vegetarians. Some people never eat meat on a Friday. Some people buy only “happy meat” from sustainable farms, or eggs from utilitarian, free-range farmers named Kiara. Some people only buy Oscar Mayer baloney. I vow to never eat simply for the sake of sustenance. As long as I can afford to, and I live in a society where there is such a large variety of foods, I will eat only foods I like, foods I enjoy eating, foods that are healthful and foods that do not harm the environment.
I call it eating for enjoyment. Yes, it’s idealistic, and possibly a bit unrealistic. But so are vegans eating at Downer. And at least when I start cooking for myself, I’ll have complete control over what goes into my tummy.
This food project of mine has only just begun. I still eat mystery meat and casseroles at Downer. And after a four-year love affair with Ramen noodles, it will be hard to go cold turkey. But, I got recipe books for Christmas and spent a good part of my break experimenting with bread baking. And when I occasionally cook dinner with my boyfriend, even though it still takes almost three hours from start to first bite, I enjoy every minute of the cooking.
And if nothing else, I’m learning that when you buy your own ingredients and spend the time and effort putting them together into something worth eating, you think a lot more about where your food came from, how it’s made and exactly what food as a concept means to our human societies in general.