When I cook, yes, of course it is with the fundamental goal of preparing something to eat which will nourish my body, or at least sate my hunger, in theory providing some of the needed nutrition I require to continue functioning. Pay no attention to anything coming out of my deep fryer.
Beyond that, there’s a big difference between merely making myself something to eat, and preparing a meal, especially if the intent is to provide it to share with friends and family. In the latter case, the cooking takes on more of an art form, intended to use the utmost care in crafting a culinary gift filled with the most important ingredient of all: love.
It goes even further. It’s not just about respect for those that will eat the meal, it’s about respect for the food itself. There’s something to be said about the reality that not everyone in the world has the luxury of eating a good meal on a regular basis… it’s even more than that, though. The food itself is worthy of respect. Story time…
I have a sushi place I like to frequent–well, at least I did, prior to a pandemic destroying all sense of reality. On my second visit, the owner of the restaurant, a master of sushi preparation, was working the sushi bar that night, and when they were out of one particular item (toro, as it was), offered me up a custom plate to try. We started talking a bit, I asked him to put together another plate for me of whatever he felt was interesting, and so on for quite some time that evening.
In fact, I would come back regularly, once a week on average, for a similar experience. The way it works is, I don’t even wait at the entrance, I just walk back to the sushi bar and sit myself down. The wait staff–unless they’re new– all know me. I speak directly with the staff, and typically just say “make me $50 worth of food,” for instance. New wait staff are often confused at first, but the veterans will explain that “she is a great customer, just bring her some water and she’ll be all set”.
The best nights were always when the owner, Jimmy, was working, as we’d get into various conversations about sushi making, food authenticity, theory and artistry. He even explained his plans to open a second restaurant, focused specifically on authentic sushi preparations. I never quite had the nerve to ask what I’d need to do to work part time for him, but no matter, as the plan never quite came to fruition, at least not yet.
As a fun little aside, Jimmy happened to be the first person to figure out when I was just starting to transition, even before I was really out to any friends or family. One night when I arrived he simply stopped for a moment and commented, “You look different.” I smiled, nodded, and said that I was working on some things.
The upshot of this story though, was an evening on which I commented simply about how beautiful the sushi looked, and how artfully he handled the preparation. His response still resonates with me: “It’s about respect for the fish. That fish gave its life so that we could have a meal to eat. It’s our job to appreciate that by preparing it well.”
Though the message originally spoke to fish, the intent fits just as well with any food, whether animal sourced or not. If I am to be preparing food, it is worth my putting in the effort to do it well.