Over at NASA, they are trying to figure out how to package peanut butter cookies and garlic mashed potatoes for a trip to Mars. Because the mission will need five years of food security, they are considering the possibilities of a hydroponic greenhouse, in addition to the freeze dried cookies and tofu stroganoff. The NASA kitchen representative I heard on the radio said that they are very concerned with providing 'comfort foods' so as not to increase the 'alienation' of being on a long mission. Get it: alienation?
I thought about that last night as I pulled together an easy, warm-evening dinner for Z and me. Soft white beans, warmed with a big glug of olive oil, green beans cut into inch lengths and sauteed, a salad of cucumber, tomato, avocado. We sat at the recently relocated picnic table (in the driveway) and dug in.
Zelda can be hard to feed at restaurants, food carts, even from the deli at the store. It is partially because of what she can't eat - the cheese and butter that are in so many of the kid friendly food options. But it is also partially because this is how she likes to eat: fresh food, minimally processed. At our table, and at the homes of our friends, she eats as well as any kid, and much better than some adults. Since her baby-hood, she has chosen the freshest food on the table as her preference - squash over noodles, cucumbers over crackers, watermelon over cake. Even more, her preference is for the food itself - she would always rather a grilled zucchini - not too large, or bitter, or seedy, mind you, and not over-done or mushy - to a zucchini muffin or fritter. At our house, the bowl of cherry tomatoes on the table is devoured like candy, before I have a chance to turn them into something else. During pea season, we are really only supplementing a steady diet picked off the vine and shelled in the shadow of the row.
At dinner, she hummed her pleasure as she scooped beans and tomato.
Years ago, Jeff pointed out that I have a special hum I do while bent over a bowl of perfectly prepared veg. 'It's your vegetable hum,' he said, 'You don't do it for other foods, even when you really like them.' And there is something to that - some whole other level of satisfaction that exists for me - when I can feel the life still in something as I chew it, when the color and texture of the food is part of the joy, and when every step of the process is dear to me. Like eating sun - which I imagine is just what I would want to do, out there in space, surrounded by beacons of light.
Don't get me wrong, I like peanut butter cookies a lot, and so does my kid. But for us - oh, and especially right now - comfort comes from the un-compromised joining of soil, sun, water, seed, and human attention: the living gift of our belonging in the cycle of things.