BREAD DOES NOT LIVE BY OUR HANDS ALONE
Recipes as an invitation to put your hands into stories of becoming with bacteria.
1. We conspire when we eat
To ask what it is to eat is to recognize oneself as hungry: there is an infinite void of possible answers to the inquiry. Eating comes first. Eating is movement. Eating is a prenatal impulse and an action that inaugurates and involves the body. Eating is reaching and retaining temperature. Eating is ingesting the solar energy dispersed in the cosmos and that plants transform into living bodies, into food. To eat is to trace our evolutionary process and transmute from unicellular organisms to animals in one bite. To eat is to incorporate into ourselves other forms of life. To eat is to know a territory. To eat is to enter into communion.
Eating is also like breathing. The air we inhale is the breath of the other living beings with whom we share the atmosphere. What is in between from one another (you, me, the arboloco, the bumblebee, the yacon) presupposes an original relationship that is contained in the air we exchange. Air is as ineffable and enigmatic as consciousness itself. For some indigenous and aboriginal peoples, consciousness is not a power that resides individually in each one, but in a collective quality that links us to other animals, plants, mountains, rocks, insects, clouds. We are entwined, through breath, with our planetary fellows.
The breath we exchange with plants is one of the strongest manifestations of symbiosis between two species. The most intriguing is that the air we share does not belong to either party. Through breath, we are not only in permanent relation with the other living beings of this planet, but we also make possible the experience of understanding the limits that separate us as the links that connect us. We literally conspire.
2. Cooking is part of digestion
Cooking is a process of creation and destruction at the same time. The first is perhaps obvious. The second, not so much. By destruction I mean the decomposition of food that starts at the moment we begin to transform it in the kitchen. This decomposition could be understood as a process of pre-digestion or digestion outside the body in which the digestive system, which is elusive to us because it remains hidden, becomes evident.
Whether we cook for ourselves or for others, those who eat are our guests. Cooking for them is a way to participate in their digestive processes, to interfere in their metabolic pathways. Cooking for someone is also to participate in someone's digestion, the same as the microorganisms that are hosted in our intestinal flora do for us.
Understanding cooking from this perspective opens us to the possibility of assuming digestion as a process of assimilation that goes beyond the limits of the body, although without dissociating it, but rather engaging it from another place, that of mutualism as the mutually beneficial form of association and interaction between those who feed and those who are fed.
The kitchen, like digestion, is a place of transference and transit that allows us to recognize and assume ourselves as beings engaged with other beings with whom, inside or outside the body, we create mutual worlds.
"To eat is to know a territory. To eat is to enter into communion."
3. Double helix contamination/collaboration
All living organisms have something in common, double helix molecules carrying genetic instructions for the development, function, growth and reproduction of life. The manifestations of these two entangled micro serpents are so magnificent that we can barely get to describe them, but luckily we get to experience them only from the minimum act of breathing. One thing we know about DNA is that it is the most intelligent structure in order to survive, its only purpose is to reproduce itself as much as possible. It is a thriving xerox machine, an endless copy-paste of genes made possible by the mutuality with symbiont macro and micro organisms like bacterias, fungi and archaea.
Wheat is a type of grass that we cultivate for its seed. By tracing back the origins of its genetic strands, we could tell the history of humankind all the way to our own kitchen. Processed wheat seeds are present in so many processed foods that we consume everyday, that is the most-produced cereal worldwide, taking more land area than any other food crop; without a doubt, it is a mega thriving xerox machine.
Lately I think a lot about this, specially since I learned how to make bread, not only by the exercise of trying and testing the flavors and consistency in the use of the wide variety of flours that I face in the flour section at the supermarket, but by the everyday ritual of mixing the dough starter with the water, this with the sandy flour and some salt, to put my hands into it and start massaging, pulling, folding and kneading a shapeless dough that commands my gestures, my posture, my breathing. In the attempt of taming the dough out of my hands, is the dough who tames me, it choreographs my movement in order to have a body, to gain flexibility, to breath through air pockets, to rest and grow for the next hours while I feed its culture again; we are both alive, we are both conspiring together.
Next morning, before the mixing and kneading choreography starts, I can see, smell and touch the cultured life growing in the starter jar; the fermented community of bacteria, or yeast, living in the dough bubbles, transforming the complex wheat strands for giving us a more nutritious meal, enable the emergence of a relationship where the active presence of both affects our senses and makes a pleasurable difference to the other. What a smart way of blooming all around the world, wheat only had to make us surrender to its immense possibilities of flavors to have all our physical and mental resources invested in making it thrive and reproduce all over.
While having a beer later in the evening, wheat crawls back into my thoughts to take me to its fields where I can see a combination of elements that are also a big part of our morning ritual. Earth and dirt, which represent the foundations from which the planet can grow, emerge affected by human agriculture, which has now reached a point of unprecedented damage due to monocultural industrial practices. The processed foods we buy at a supermarket carry with them stories of capitalist cyborgs—a mix of underpaid and exploited human hands and overworked machines—, and of nonsoels—nonsocial landscape elements that enable scalability, growth, control, and standardization. Wind that makes the wheat stems dance to a soft breeze, and brings with it yeast and molecules that have maintained the stability of the biosphere, is also polluted by human activity, bringing debris from cars, factories, planes, and grazing cows. Water as a force that is both soft and powerful, and symbolizes fluidity and healing, is also a source of memory and information: Where does the water we will use come from? Does it travel from a natural aquifer to our houses through metal pipes, or is it chlorinated water that was once murky wastewater? Fermentation invites us to transform matter into life through watery entanglements, and to become part of the prebiotic soup that sits at the core of scientific and spiritual mythologies on the origin of life. And finally, fire or energy which is related to the unpredictable and energetic, and it is a symbol of passion, energy, and sexuality. The word fermentation has etymological roots in the latin fervere, which refers to boiling, burning, and effervesce. The morning ritual with the bread invites microbial and human cultures to create heat and energy, as we digest nutrients, proteins, calories, and stories. The ritual fire and the cooking fire come together in the process of transformation, uncovering the matter behind all spiritual endeavours.