In Defense of Simple Food

By Claire Lorentzen 11-30-2010

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[Editors' Note: This month, Sojourners will examine the intersection of food, faith, and farmworker justice. We will feature posts from contributing bloggers about where our food comes from, what affect this process has on agricultural workers, and how we can respond as people of faith.]

India - Haridwar - 010 - vegetables for sale in Bara Bazaarphoto © 2007 McKay Savage | more info (via: Wylio)

During college I lived in an all-vegetarian co-op, where I cooked every week for 55 people. After my first three-hour shift in the kitchen, it dawned on me that if I really wanted to build relationships with the people I was living with and learn how to live in community with a diverse array of personalities and values, I needed to stay in the kitchen. So, I did. Each week as I cooked for three hours with four other people, I learned which kinds of recipes work, and which don't, which kinds of leadership styles work and which don't, and how making food together can build relationships and community (and I'm afraid to say -- also break them down).

In the 30 or so "head cooks" I worked under, I saw every kind of leadership style -- from the over-controlling, super-organized, every task assigned and planned out "leader", to the spaced out, do whatever you want to "leader" -- and everything in between. I also saw every kind of recipe, including the complicated ones, with a long list of ingredients, and a recipe that the "head cook" couldn't even read. This array of variables in the kitchen created some of the most stressful and overwhelming three-hour experiences I've ever had. But with 55 people relying on us for their necessary nourishment, we often tried to do too much, and always feared we were all going to have something burnt and bad for dinner. From the 200-plus hours I spent in the kitchen, I could sum up everything I learned about food, and life, in one phrase: keep it simple.

But this is no new idea. Others like Doris Longacre, author of the More With Less Cookbook, and Alice Waters who wrote The Art of Simple Food: Notes, Lessons, and Recipes from a Delicious Revolution have been at the forefront of the simple food movement since the 1970s. They agree that there are ethical and spiritual reasons to eat and live simply. As Valerie Weaver- Zercher writes in "Simple Living Becomes Sexy" in the December issue of Sojourners, More With Less first published in 1976, sold "wildly" and taught people how to eat "responsibly in light of global hunger." She then went on to write "Living More with Less in part because the oil crisis and stagflation had readers scrounging around for practical tips on how to live with less in all areas of life, not just cooking.

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