A dream of peace and plenty

Saturday 8 May, 2010: 

I’ve realised that I’m kind of ok about cooking again, but there’s honestly not a lot of satisfaction to be taken in it. It’s more like I have a bit of ‘quietude’ about it, nowadays. My opinion is that I’ve only a certain amount of energy to devote to all my pursuits. So I don’t want to waste too much of it on cooking.

There’s a logical sequence to my thoughts on the matter, which goes something like this.

1) Cooking has always been (for me) tied to a feeling of using whatever’s available; making something nice because of necessity and love, out of very limited resources. Often, I’ve felt like I’ve worked a trick – pulled something from where it was unavailable and made it come into existence. I’ve never been the least attracted to exclusivity or epicurianism – food doesn’t have those categories for me; I can use anything in pretty much the same way.

2) Cooking then is not so much a good in itself as much as it’s part of a strategy, you could say – but one which is also a necessity under certain conditions. It’s also been a way of controlling or training my bricoleur’s impulses and – however modest – talents. But of course, the danger also lies in sublimating them.

3) So I also want to know that I can thrive in any circumstances. I don’t want to be attached to a pleasing, or even a ‘nutritional’ food intake. I want to know for sure that I can survive in times of shortage; times of war. I feel uneasy about the idea of being dependent on a full store-cupboard, nor am I comforted by consistency, which I know is an unstable notion.

4) At the same time I’m under no illusion at all that anyone can function for too long without vitamins, minerals, fresh food. But I see no virtue in a routine which dispenses these things in some expertly agreed upon, socially acceptable, form. I don’t believe it’s more than ideology; to require a certain type of diet; to see it as a desirable good, to be modeled by those who have it, and acquired by those who do not

5) I write this out of experience, and this experience is my only claim of any significance. I can’t believe in the virtue of a sensible, or even a healthy diet, when all around me, I see it’s a luxurious fallacy. A dream of peace and plenty – which doesn’t exist anywhere but in the minds of the sentimental. My world has been turned upside down and shaken by the experience of solidarity with people who don’t have the luxury of sentimentality for one second. Hustlers who arrive at school each day without food or money, and who are patient, diligent, intelligent, opportunists. They know what they need to survive and they’re gonna get it; if not today, then tomorrow. Having developed a ruthless insouciance, and a crucial sense of timing, they’re not without shame at their own lack. But they can override it at the flick of a switch, and chase down any hint of a deal closing. I’m emotional but not sentimental about this: I’ve seen it, and I respect it, and I understand the special ‘coldness’ it sometimes confers on people. I don’t have a liberal bone left in my body – I feel like every last impulse towards that has, first, been completely unraveled – because of my own experience of lack, and then been entirely transformed – because just when I thought there was nowhere else to go, suddenly a gap opened and I found myself over the line and calmly welcomed by these renegades. If I thought I was a bricoleur, I got nothing on these seasoned campaigners.

And that’s why all I want to do is learn: how not to be afraid, how not to wear the shame you sometimes feel, how not to turn down an offer. How to maximize your opportunities; how to expand little crumbs of time and space, so that right under people’s noses, you can create something else out of what you find; what you’re given; what you take or hustle or stockpile.

And it’s also why I don’t care anymore about expending a lot of time or energy on what I think of now as practice for the very skills I’d need in these times. My funny training ground – and I didn’t even know it. For I always used to wonder: Why do some people have to struggle while others don’t? Why can’t I do this, no matter how hard I try?

And there were no rewards for being ‘good’: no end in sight, no lesson to learn; just all the way down… and then just before you crash, suddenly it all changes, and you’re somewhere else entirely. And there’s no way you can see it coming; you just have to take that split-second opportunity when it approaches, and it might be one thing or it might be another. It might be as calm and quiet a moment as any; so that it seems like just a little step, or it might be a pulling and a stretching like nothing you’ve ever imagined… but either way, you’re gone.

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