By | Friday, June 27, 2008 2 comments

Recently I watched the movie "How to Cook Your Life," a documentary about Zen Cooking (more about that later.) Coincidentally, the current issue of Edible East Bay had a number of articles about Zen Cooking as well (more about that later too.) In each case, the main thrust was about "intention" - cooking with intention, eating with intention, living with intention. The subject of "How to Cook Your Life" says, "if you are going to eat, eat." In other words, when you eat, just eat. Your focus is eating. But more intentionally, experience the food, the ingredients, the sun that grew the plants, the soil, the rain. A very "terroir" idea. And very hard to do.
Not coincidentally, earlier this week I ate at Greens Restaurant, a Zen Vegan place in San Francisco. So, I have been trying to eat with intention. It is a good thing to do. I enjoy it. Though I'm not sure enjoying it is the point.

Today at lunch I had Pho Bo Tai Gau  [Vietnamese rice noodle soup with beef stock ("bo") and rare beef and well done brisket ("tai" and "gau".)] The restaurant was crowded and noisy, and I had some interesting observations on the other diners, which I may share subsequently as well. I was trying not to be observing others, or the place - I was eating with intention - focusing on the food alone. I noticed that the rice noodles were too processed to allow me to experience the rice - they gave me no sense of something that came from the earth. By contrast, the fresh green basil leaves which I added to my bowl were very vibrant and alive (literally.) I could feel the sun that had fallen on the plant. But the beef made me sad. As I ate it, I experienced the short and painful life of the cow. This was a feedlot cow. It lived an uncomfortable life, and for it the sun was a blazing presence - there was no shade to escape the hot sun that baked it and the hundreds of other steer in its lot. It stood on bare, parched soil and fresh and dried dung. Its death was terrifying and grim. As I ate with "intention," experiencing the sun and soil that created this animal that I ate, I found that I could only taste the shit in which the animal had stood. For hours afterwards my mouth tasted like dung and dust.

Perhaps eating with intention right after reading Michael Pollen's The Omnivores Dilemma isn't such a good idea.
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  1. The best place to eat Pho with intent is on a little plastic stool at the side of the road in Saigon in the rain.

  2. Or perhaps on a little plastic chair at the side of the road in Hanoi, in the sweltering heat, with an infinite number of motorbiks honking, and 5 guys on their knees jockying for position to "fix" your shoes, which aren't broken. But, of course, its Hanoi, so I'm eating Bun Cha, not Pho :-)


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