Sometime in the last decade, cooking became less of a chore and more of a pleasure. I have a poem, “A Liturgy for the Preparation of a Meal” by Douglas McKelvey framed on the wall in our kitchen. Its words are in my view while I chop vegetables, measure spices, and stir pots of soup. “Let us invest in this preparation a lovingkindness toward those who will partake,” writes McKelvey, “Meet us in the making of this meal, O Lord, and make of it something more than a mere nourishment for the body.”
It’s this spirit I try to possess as I prepare most meals in our kitchen, with hopes that my people, whoever it is I’m feeding, can taste the love. I’m especially drawn to cooking from new recipes, with fresh ingredients and lots of different herbs and spices. I like the challenge of it. David Giffels is the author of the essay collection, The Hard Way on Purpose. I think of this title every time I set out to make something from scratch.
Because I love words and their origins, I was curious where we get the phrase “from scratch.” It comes from the scratch drawn in the dirt as the starting line of a foot race. A runner who “starts from scratch” began at the beginning of the course, with no handicap. The Cambridge Dictionary says the phrase means, “from the beginning, without using anything that already exists.”
No one can truly make anything from scratch, except God, who spun the whole universe into existence billions of years ago, weaving all elements together in a grand, interconnected quilt spread out over millions of light years and galaxies and stars. Even if you don’t believe in a divine being who created all things, who are we kidding to think we can make anything from nothing?
But I do get to partake in small acts of from scratch-ness, mini-moments of creation that are part of the cycle of birth, death, and resurrection. Each meal I make “from the beginning” uses ingredients of things that were once living, the flesh and substance of which will be used to keep other bodies alive. Someday, these bodies will give themselves over to earth, which will give itself over to grass, which will give itself over to animals, which will give themselves over to someone else, a circuit of harmonious sacrifice.
What has already gone before me to make this particular dish? Some farmer planted the seeds. Some butcher prepared the meat. Some honey bees pollinated the plant. Many things lifted their blossoms and followed the sun, waited for rain, and grew out of the minerals from which we all came. I get to partake in what has already been given up, “from the beginning.” Cooking “from scratch” is humbling.
P.S. Many of my life’s little joys involve food. This is how it is.
Photo by Engin Akyurt: https://www.pexels.com/photo/flat-lay-photography-of-variety-of-vegetables-1435904/