“The secret of success in life,” said author Mark Twain, “is to eat what you like and let the food fight it out inside.”
“My cooking is so bad,” said comedian Phyllis Diller, “my kids thought Thanksgiving was to commemorate Pearl Harbor.”
“The only time to eat diet food,” said the great chef Julia Child, “is while you’re waiting for the steak to cook.”
Food is something to care for deeply, either in jest, or in deep seriousness.
“The world begins,” says Poet Joy Harjo, “at a kitchen table.”
No matter what, we must eat to live.
The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table.
So it has been since creation, and it will go on.
So do this with me: Imagine on your kitchen table the pumpkin pie you will happily consume this upcoming Thursday. If you don’t prefer pumpkin pie, imagine a different something you will happily consume this upcoming Thursday.
Bring it to your mind’s eye.
Imagine the original pumpkins, where they began in a field.
In fact, go beyond that, to the original seeds.
See them planted in the soil, dark and deep.
See the sun and the rain that nurtured the seeds and set them sprouting,
then growing and growing and growing…
See the hands that harvested the mature pumpkins, hands of all sorts of colors,
and what led some of the people belonging to those hands to have left their country of origin to start a new life somewhere else….
Imagine all the factors and forces way beyond what I’ve mentioned
that have gone into transforming the raw pumpkin into the delicious pie:
cinnamon from Sri Lanka,
cloves come Madagascar,
all the other ingredients too,
see all this in your mind’s eye,
how something as simple as a pumpkin pie is not so simple after all.
It is a coming together of people and places and ingredients from around the globe!
It is symbolic of what our 7th Principle of the Interdependent Web of All Existence talks about.
Right there in that Thanksgiving pumpkin pie!
There is more to our food than meets the eye!
Same goes for cooking the food.…
It’s little Cora in our story for today, Cora Cooks Pancit, taking ingredients out of the shelves, plopping noodles in a pot, getting absorbed in the motions of cooking, the smells, the textures, the colors, and the entire experience.
Getting so absorbed, time stands still.
We know from positive psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi [Me- high cheeks-send-me-high] that what is happening is “flow. “ Cooking can put you into a flow experience faster than anything. It’s an experience of energized focus, when you are completely absorbed in what you are doing, and there is a sense of serenity and spaciousness, and a sense of deep wellness and satisfaction.
Moments like these are some of the best in our lives.
There is more to cooking than meets the eye!
But the “time stands still” theme is only implicit in Cora’s story. The explicit theme is how food and cooking can immerse us in the feeling that we belong to something larger than ourselves.
When Cora puts the red apron on, and she is cooking the distinctively Filipino dish called pancit, she feels like she belongs to the older self she is becoming, to the mother who loves her, and above all to her Lolo, her grandfather, a man presumably she has never met but he represents her Filipino heritage, her culture.
The smells and sensations of cooking wrap you up in an experience of your family—of a stream of life that long precedes you and will long go beyond you and touch countless lives not yet born.
Some of you know that, when this congregation has had auction fund-raisers, one thing I like to donate is a full Ukrainian meal that I cook. As many folks as can fit around my dining room table are invited, and I spend around nine hours preparing for the event. Garlic is sizzling in butter; onion is sizzling in butter. Dumplings (with garlic, onion, and butter) are sizzling on top of the stove, sausage in saurkraut and potatoes (with garlic and onion and butter) is sizzling in the stove. Basically, everything is sizzling, and everything is pervaded by garlic and onion and butter, and I feel duty-bound to warn my guests that this meal is going to be really bad for their cholesterol levels.
But so very, very tasty.
And on top of the table that I have decorated beautifully, in the center, are two black-and-white pictures taken sometime in the 1970s. My Baba (or my grandmother) on my Dad’s side is wearing her cooking apron, and she’s got a big smile, and her big smile is where I got my smile from. The other picture is of my Baba on my Mom’s side, and she looks over her shoulder smiling while both her hands are completely committed to the dough she is kneading for the dumplings she is making.
Onion and garlic and butter and dumplings and sausage are the food of my people, who emigrated to Canada in the early 20th century from the Ukraine.
So when I cook my big Ukrainian meal with the onion and garlic and butter and dumplings and sausage, I do so as a way of honoring my Babas and all the beautiful aromas and tastes that I grew up with that helped me know who I was beyond the insanity of my dysfunctional birth family … and I am astonished that I am the grown-up now, doing the cooking … and I fervently pray that the aromas and tastes I create might somehow be worthy so that, if they were alive, they might say “Tastes like mine…”
May your Thanksgiving experience be nothing like Phyllis Diller’s.
May it be one where the food itself takes you on a journey of feeling your connection to the Interdependent Web of Existence—how your single life is sustained by the countless gifts of the Earth and the countless efforts of other people.
And may the cooking bring a blessing to you—of being brought close to people who love you, to people who loved you but are no longer around, and to people you may never have known but they are your ancestors, the story of your life is seeded profoundly by their stories.
Being brought close to all that.
Something to be so very thankful for.