When food is more than nutrition…

This is my 29th article in the Mercury Food and Wine supplement.

Last week I, along with fellow columnist Nompumelelo Mqwebu, had the pleasure of being invited to an innovative pop up dinner hosted by pianist and Steinway artist, Christopher Duigan. I won’t go into any details, Mpume has it covered. I am going to wax a little philosophical instead.

Photo courtesy of Christopher Duigan

Photo courtesy of Christopher Duigan

What the experience demonstrated for me was the real meaning of “whole food”. One often hears the term bandied about without thinking seriously about what it really means. On first thoughts, it seems to mean food that has not been refined or broken down such as, “whole wheat”. It is however much more than this simplistic meaning.

What “whole food” means for me was encapsulated in the experience I had at the pop up dinner. This was a dinner in which all the guests contributed something to the whole, be it the food, their expertise, or their willing hands. Each dish was a culmination of effort by those participating, from the growing, preparation, presentation and the sheer enjoyment of it. This was personal food, not something anonymous.

Food is ultimately energy harvested from the sun and passed through the substance of living creatures – plant and animal. Something alive had to give up its life in order to provide us with food. This sacrifice implies that food is sacred and must be accorded due reverence.

Someone has had to hunt, catch, gather, grow or raise our food before it enters the kitchen. These tasks take skill and energy and imply an intimate relationship with the earth and sea.

Those who prepare the raw ingredients and turn them into worthy creations that honour their origins and add another level of energy should be revered. I have heard it said that the kitchen should be the most sacred place in a home. I wholeheartedly agree. As a farmer I am in awe of the skills of a chef in transforming produce from the fields into something sublime.

There is yet another level to our appreciation of food and that is in its presentation. This is where other forms of human creativity enhance the enjoyment of our food. The skill of the potter in creating fine tableware, and the eye of the decorator in laying the stage for our dining pleasure are essential parts of the reverence of food. The final ambiance is laid by the artistry of the musicians. Thanks to them we can enter a mood suited to completing this journey.

At the end the food we have eaten has added much more to us than just nutrition. Much more than just taste. It has brought us together and created a sense of community. This is the true meaning of “whole food” in the human context. It is food that is ultimately greater than the sum of its parts. Last weeks dinner was a perfect example of “whole food” in action.

Below are links to articles about the pop up dinner by bloggers Sue Green  and Alex Sweet.

Pietermaritzburg Pop-up!

The Table; pop-up food, wine, ceramics and music evening

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About Rob Symons

My name is Rob Symons. I live in Pietermaritzburg, kwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. MuthiMuthi is my Zulu nickname which means tall tree. I am an Organic Farmer and an environmentalist. I live and work on Broadleaze Farm in the Mkondeni valley on the eastern outskirts of Pietermaritzburg.
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6 Responses to When food is more than nutrition…

  1. Pam Haynes says:

    Wish I had been there ! Let us know when it is happening again.
    Pam Haynes

  2. Sous Chef says:

    Nicely put Rob and thanks for the link to my blog.

  3. Wonderful post Rob. I will so enjoy my steamed just-dug potatoes, with pesto provided by a friend with a stupendous basil patch, in the moonlight tonight. I like it when you “wax philosophical.”

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