Monday, 24 March 2014

Warm Land Lunch: Sharing Stories for Eating
Domestic Confections, credit (c): Molly Balcom Raleigh

I am lucky enough to study food and food stories for a living—and on top of that, I get to work with a number of artists who play with food for their living (as with Molly Balcom Raleigh’s mouse nest confections project pictured here and to the left). Involving the construction of edible mouse nests representing what a mouse might be able to make from the various detritus of common domestic spaces, this project encouraged participants in the opening festivities to make themselves mouse nest sundaes, and as the artist explained: “Eating the nests at the end of the meal allows us to symbolically re-integrate the self with nature at the sites where it is most relevant to our lives: our homes and our bodies.” 

Despite the thoughtfulness and delight evident in this approach to food, a recent conversation on mindful eating art practice convened by St. Paul Artist in Residence Marcus Young revealed that it turns out that many of us still have trouble eating lunch.

Especially when I am in the midst of researching some particular labor atrocity or unbelievably mundane source of avoidable toxins, it is not surprising that it might be hard to shake off judgmental feelings about potential lunch fixings. So at the end of this extraordinarily long and cold winter, when the idea of a picnic on the warm grass seems like an astonishingly captivating way to reintegrate ourselves with nature, I will briefly share the idea I am thinking of as a "warm land lunch" series, responding to all the subtle but palpable pressures that keep lunch a distinctly third class meal despite its delightful potential as a rejuvenating repast in the center of our days.

Conversation amongst Molly, Marcus, and I along with our colleague Aki Shibata and Clouds in Water leader/teachers Sosan Flynn and Ken Ford made us realize how much we responded to these pressures: lunch seems so hard to prioritize, especially in the midst of busy days. And yet we all agreed on how rewarding it was to step away from the desk, set a space, enjoy the surface, the vessels, the implements, and the food, and to connect with the conviviality and social space of lunch--even, paradoxically, if we were doing so in silence, or only in virtual companionship, knowing, for example, that a companion elsewhere was also stopping to eat lunch.

We may be a world away from more formally convivial lunches, as in Japan, where Aki tells us shared lunch hours are still much more common than most of us have experienced. But the shared space of navigating the meaning and affect of lunch has been a compelling prospect for us, and we are considering what sorts of platforms provide enough scaffolding for a convivial lunch--neither stripping away the actual conviviality (in simulated virtual companionship) nor necessarily burdening the already difficult-to-justify time with additional sociality. While we dream up community picnics on the warm land (once this new layer of snow melts), I am suddenly hearing lunch stories from many colleagues (many unprompted--perhaps lunch romanticism is a feature of this time of stir-crazy fake springtime). Some reminisce about the daily departmental lunches they used to eat together. Others ask why we have stopped walking out (across the icy tundra of sidewalk) for companionable if occasional lunches. On the day after our conversation above, a colleague asked if I had time for lunch with that tone that says "I know you don't," and seemed surprised when I responded that we had to eat, so we might as well make time for it. On the walk to lunch, she told me about quiet eating spaces she had experienced in past jobs, where people brought brown bag lunches to a common room and ate in companionable silence. The promise of the warm land lunch seems just below the surface of this season, and I look forward to sharing how it sprouts.

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