At a recent First Friday I happened into a gallery where a Tibetan Buddhist Monk was finishing an intricate and dazzling rainbow colored sand painting. He used a small paper tube to pour the colored sand onto a board outlined with an ornate circular mandala design. The audience stood transfixed not just at the vibrant playful colors or at the blue ribbon of sand being so carefully poured with exactness and grace, but at the fragility of the moment and the pleasure of sharing something that would soon disappear. The next day this laborious work of art would be brushed away, leaving those of us who were fortunate enough to happen upon it with something between a vision, a memory and a dream.
It occurred to me today after leaving the café that creating food is not entirely different from the delicate sand art mandala that is now only a memory. We spend so much time and effort; washing, chopping, peeling, seasoning, simmering, stirring – only for what we create to quickly vanish off the plate. Preparing homemade meals with love using pure ingredients from the earth is an offering. We are making a gesture that what we do with the food before it makes it onto the plate matters.
When boxes arrive in the farmer’s hands filled with produce that has been freshly picked that morning and placed carefully into bags with hand written labels, there is a difference. Even food that has been grown using strict organic guidelines holds a completely different energy if it has been mass produced, packed into vacuum sealed bags, labeled with bright yellow stickers, stacked evenly in boxes, and placed on a truck for hours only to pass hands once again in a warehouse and then hauled onto yet another truck before ever making its way through our back door and onto our chopping block.
The farmers’ offerings hold something intangible – something like that sand painting mandala. Bunches of tender baby carrots with leaves still intact, red and pink salad turnips gathered together by their tops and tied with string, jagged bitter dandelion leaves with purple edges, blue-green kale with holes nibbled by insects, buckets of freshly cut flowers. These gifts from the earth hold sunlight and rain and cracked hands that have pulled weeds and worked with the earth. They hold an energy that can’t be measured in calories, grams of sugar or fat.