Community Cookin’

Jun 22nd, 2014 | By | Category: Blog

“They have maintained the domestic arts of kitchen and garden”

This principle struck me because it reminded me of an experience that many of the Louisville interns had just last night. Carlyn works at Bernheim Arboretum, which we visited for one of our fifth days, and her supervisor, Claude Stephens, invited us over to his house for dinner on Saturday evening. Instead of having food prepared when we arrived, as has often been my experience at dinner gatherings, we arrived at Claude’s house at 5:30, picked herbs and vegetables from his garden, and prepared a feast with food that he had purchased at the farmers’ market just that morning. We stayed until late in the evening, and he told us about his past experiences and his house and its decorations (which were both AMAZING). This is exactly the type of experience which I imagine as described by “the domestic arts of kitchen and garden.” Although in my life thus far, I haven’t experience this frequently, I am becoming more and more familiar with feeling connected to my food and the people with whom I cook. Whether that comes from knowing the farmer who grew and harvested the food or planting it myself, this connection is becoming a more and more important part of my life as time moves  forward.

I also know that my experience growing up and lacking this understanding of food is not necessarily the norm, but I believe that this is a problem that many areas of the country face, partially as a result of the consolidation and mechanization of farms. I was only able to understand these connections by seeking them out – taking environmental studies classes, working on farms, going to farmers’ markets, researching food systems. I believe that living at a college or university, at least for the first couple of years, inhibits peoples’ abilities to practice the “art of the kitchen” and many times the “art of a garden.” Luckily, Middlebury is located in a place which has maintained its connection to food more so than some other areas of the country, and there is also space for the farm. Although cooking may be inconvenient in many ways (free time being one of the largest), there is still the chance for people who want to learn about food and farming to experience it firsthand. The challenge of cooking in college also brings into question the lack of time for preparing food that many Americans experience. Although I’m not sure how it would be accomplished, I think that a change in mindset, which views cooking as a communal or family event, which is done for the process and the experience, not just for the end result, would be an important step in understanding and reforming our food system and our perceptions of it.

Although I think that Amish people may have preserved the “domestic arts of kitchens and gardens” more successfully than the conventional American farm, I do believe that these arts still exist in many parts of the country and that they are achievable and enjoyable in many circumstances, as long as the intention exists. Cooking with Claude was one of what I hope to be many of these types experiences this summer.

One Comment to “Community Cookin’”

  1. Benjamin Harris says:

    Hey Abigail, I loved reading about your unconventional dinner at Claude’s. Of course, it made me think about how so much of what I eat now is prepared in advance, so that when I sit down, I can finish my meal in typically quick college fashion. But on a deeper level, hearing that Claude had you gather even the smallest ingredients in the meal (like herbs) that aren’t “necessary”– yet add enjoyable dimension to a dish–caused me to consider just how much I’ve taken for granted. In high school, I came home to many meals cooked by my parents, which were the most obvious ones to thank. Now, my perspective has deepened, as I realize that I owe gratitude to not only my immediate caretakers, but also to the most original “caretakers”: the stewards of the earth and soil, the farmers who allow for mom’s famous homecooking to be possible at all.

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