Today is my birthday and I am returning to a theme I first explored in 2019, finding joy in food, of taking time to appreciate the flavors and tastes, aromas and sights, textures and sounds of the food we eat.
Without slowing down to appreciate the flavors and tastes, the aromas and textures, the colors, it is hard to remember joy. I spend my days reading and writing about the broken food system, the dysfunctional FDA, outbreaks, and the challenges with the food supply chain, forgetting the role of food in celebrations and memories.
As I struggle to write about joy, I remember to play both with my words and my food. Despite what I read on some music learning blogs, play is an important part of practice, and practice doesn’t have to be all grind and boring. Play allows us to relax about learning, expecting us to experiment. When I am playing, the result isn’t important; the process is.
Often when I am writing about a topic, part of my play is returning to first principles, back to definitions and reading other people’s understandings of what I am writing about. One definition in Merriam Webster defines joy (noun) is “a state of happiness or felicity” and another in Psychology Today is “an enduring, deep delight in what holds the most significance.”
Some definitions of joy imply, either directly or not, that a spiritual connection is part of joy. I struggle with this, as I struggle with my definition of spirituality and its too close connection with organized religion. I don’t experience my connection to food as spiritual, even though it is often joyful.
Admittedly, cooking can also be drudgery, especially when I have to cook and nothing appeals to me and I have no energy. There is no joy in food at that moment. And that is when I need to play, practice and love the most.
Zanshin: Relaxed Alertness
As I write this, the London Writers’ Salon Words of Wisdom are from James Clear who wrote about Zanshin, a Japanese martial arts term referring to a state of relaxed alertness. James Clear says:
“The point is not to worry about hitting the target. The point is to fall in love with the boredom of doing the work and embrace each piece of the process…”
This, for me, is a reminder to find joy, to fall in love with preparation; with chopping vegetables, mixing flour and water, and kneading bread. I enjoy these stages. There is a relaxed alertness when I am cooking, when I am winding wool for knitting or carding fiber to spin on my spindle. I would also say that I practice zanshin when I am knitting and spinning because I find joy in the process as much as in the finished product.
To have zanshin, to be both relaxed and alert, when wielding my knife and my needles, I have, indeed, put in hours of practice. I played with both my yarn and my food; admittedly with spectacular failures in both. Without this practice, I wouldn’t be able to find the joy and love for my cooking, food or fiber crafts.
Playing to Find Joy
In Free Play, Stephen Nachmanovitch suggests falling in love with our instrument, whether that be violin, knife, or computer, is necessary to create at the highest level. He says we can truly experience the rapture and delight of discovery with the willingness to stretch our physical, emotional and intellectual stamina to the limits when in love and without this love, our creativity lacks the significance joy brings.
Thus, we have to practice these things: joy, play, love, and the skills required to achieve anything we find significant. To help remember this, I came up with a little mantra:
For joy we need play,
For play we need practice,
For practice we need attention,
For attention we need love.
I realized this isn’t complete as it misses the need to learn through failure, so I came up with a second mantra:
To learn we need to fail,
To fail we need to try,
To try we need to relax,
To relax we need to let go,
To let go we need to trust,
To trust we need love.
Is it possible to find joy in failure, in struggles, in picking ourselves up and trying again?
Joy in Food
Spring is a time of growth and renewal and soon, hopefully, we will enjoy fresh asparagus with butter and lemon juice, or a fresh strawberry still damp after picking. Later there will be vine ripe tomatoes and fresh peaches.
My mouth is watering!
I enjoy the food I cook. I appreciate the blending of flavors in the potato celery soup I made after discussing celery earlier this month. Or the smoothie I made from frozen fruit to celebrate Frozen Food Month.
I slow down to enjoy kneading the pizza dough I mixed from my sourdough. And pay attention while cutting out the shortbread cookies I baked for a snack.
I stop to let chocolate melt on my tongue and I listen to the sound a carrot makes when I crunch down on it.
How do you find joy in food? Or has food turned into drudgery and threat? Where do you find zanshin and love in creating?
Who Writes Food Crumbs?
Cathy Davies runs a food safety consultancy, Food Safety Mid Atlantic, supporting specialty food businesses with their food safety plans and programs. If you are interested in learning more about my consulting services, please schedule a free call.
Check out last month’s blog post on how to Prepare for Food Safety Inspections.
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Happy birthday, Cathy! I hope you are having a truly wonderful day, with time to appreciate the flavours and tastes of it all.
Cheers! 🎂 like you, I find joy in baking and cooking, and zanshin in writing.