The Holidays, Our Food, and the Pagan Chef
Article ID: 12275
Age Group: Adult
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Posted: December 30th. 2007
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The holiday season always makes me think about my spiritual path. I suppose that’s the whole point, but I am thinking about it for reasons other than the usual pagan angst about Christmas.
I am perfectly comfortable with looking at the baby Jesus in the manger and explaining to my kids that he is a symbol of the newly born Sun.
And although I absolutely hate the American consumerism aspect of Christmas, I still recognize that it’s a time when everyone celebrates together, and expresses love and affection for the people in our lives.
Since that’s the way the whole community does it; I don’t mind getting in there with my small gifts and hugs. I even enjoy saying “Merry Christmas!” especially to my pagan friends.
After all, one planet, one people. A holiday celebrating enlightenment or Christ consciousness is okay with me.
I have been practicing my brand of witchcraft for over 20 years and I’ve seen the craft come from the shadows to the full light of day. When the U.S. Army agrees to let pagans mark their cemetery plots with pentagrams right alongside the crucifix, star of David, and other recognizable symbols, I think it’s safe to say modern paganism, Wicca, in particular has made it to the mainstream.
Although I observe the sabbats and moons with other witches, my true practice is intensely solitary. I withdraw within myself to contemplate the whys and wherefores of life. And then, with any newly gained insights, I gladly immerse myself in the public energies.
As a teen, first learning about witchcraft, I chose my profession to a great extent, because of my reverence for the Earth, its inhabitants, the true magical glory of the life force of the universe, and because I enjoy great food.
I am a chef.
When I was younger and working in California, I often thought about the wonders of our food distribution systems on this planet, but it never hit me as hard as it does nowadays. I have been a chef on the Big Island of Hawaii for ten years now, and I am still amazed when I think about the stuff that comes into the kitchen.
For the most part, I try to use the most local ingredients possible, but being that this is an island; we import much of what is used here. We have truly amazing lettuces, herbs, tomatoes, cucumbers, and exotic fruits here.
This island grows coffee beans, cacao beans, and vanilla beans. There are several ranches here providing fresh poultry, lamb, pork, and beef. There are some very cutting edge aqua farms here providing things like Maine cold-water lobsters, shrimp, and several species of fish.
Of course, the ocean waters around Hawaii provide the best fish available on the planet. The roadways are often littered with mangoes, lilikoi, guava, avocados, and papayas that are growing like crazy and just falling off the trees.
But even with the extremely Earth conscious organic farming here, most of the population relies on imported foods bought at the supermarkets just like anywhere else in America.
There are very few people living the traditional life of old. We “natives” all have cell phones, e-mails, and are very likely to go for corporate mainstream fast food from the convenience of our latest model cars.
Every bit of that stuff is imported. I was talking to a cook at a nationwide corporate restaurant that I won’t name, and she told me that there were times when she was out of the pre-sliced vacuum sealed tomatoes they get from who knows where, and she wasn’t allowed to walk across the parking lot to the market to buy some local tomatoes.
Another reason for importing is seasonality. For example, mangos grown in Hawaii are really fantastic, and a single tree might drop hundreds but the growing season here is relatively short and quite often I find myself using mangoes from various places on the planet like Peru and Ecuador.
Sometimes when excessive rain or other conditions on the island force me to use lettuces from California, I watch the dirt rinse away from the lettuce and I think to myself, “ Look, there’s soil from the central valley of California. California sunshine, soil, and water.”
I remember, in one day, cleaning and prepping lamb from Australia, New Zealand, Colorado, and Hawaii. It was odd that I would be using four different lambs but the circumstances and events of that day made it necessary.
The four meats all had different smells, colors, and textures, both in their raw state and cooked. It’s marvelous to consider that they came from such vastly different locations. (Just for the record, they were for four separate meals and clients.)
My first job as a teen was in a butcher shop, so I’ve had plenty of time to deal with the whole concept of killing another being to consume its life force to further sustain our own life.
Hunting takes this reverence to another level. I should hope that every hunter gives thanks and respect before pulling the trigger or loosing the arrow.
In my work, I seldom have to do major butchery any more except for the fish. The fishermen know that I won’t accept little baby fish, and if they mishandle their catch, I will report them and they could lose their license.
Sadly for the mainlanders, many of the fish companies with reputations for mishandling fish do not sell to the Hawaiian chefs because we can see right away when the quality is poor. They make their money selling the fish to mainland brokers.
I imagine transporting the fish 3000 to 6000 miles over a period of days does nothing to improve the quality of already mishandled fish. The tunas we use are usually in the hundred to hundred forty pound range. They are as big as a person.
Quite often, we receive them the day they are caught and I swear, I can still sense the life in the fish. I always thank the fish and Spirit before the first cut, and I promise to prepare and serve it with the utmost respect, both for the fish and for the guest.
I want to imagine that all chefs and cooks treat food with this sort of reverence and love, but sadly it is not so.
The holiday season is a demanding time for chefs. The whole world seems to stop working and they want to party. It’s a special time, so the food has to be extra special. Every year, I see it.
Cooks get worked hard and start to lose respect for what they are doing. Many never cared about their work in the first place, and it’s bad when they get grouchy.
I tell my cooks that our energy is an unwritten ingredient that goes into everything we make. If you’re feeling upset, let’s talk about it. I want them to be able to be mad and hate their girlfriend, or whatever, but still maintain respect for the food. That comes from the mindset I try to create in the kitchen.
The world is crazy and life is full of challenges. But it’s not the challenges that matter. It’s how we deal with them that counts. And no matter what, food is sacred. We are professional craftsmen and a real sense of pride and professionalism is required.
Preparing food and serving people is a sacred act that can reward us with a great healing energy. The knowledge that we are promoting life and happiness in the world makes us good guys.
Sometimes it’s hard to remember that after a fourteen-hour day of hard work with several more long days to come but I feel it is so important to keep our energies in check.
I love cooking for others. Seeing people enjoy their meals is truly a spiritual high for me.
Food is magic.
And if you think about where the various ingredients on your plate came from and how many people had a hand in preparing your meal, I hope it gives you a sense of pride in being human.
A person living completely on their own could never grow, catch, harvest, and make all the things needed for even our simplest dishes. It is the result of nearly 10, 000 years of farming, technologies and living together that we can enjoy the bounty of this magnificent planet.
Stone age folks did whatever magic was necessary to ensure food and shelter for their clan. Some of it worked, some of it didn’t.
I feel that some of the genetic engineering the mega-farms are doing to our crops is a mistake but at the same time I recognize it as modern magic.
We as clever creatures must consider our options and make the best choices possible for what is best for us.
But whether the choice is organic carrots or genetically altered irradiated bell peppers; remember they are all of the Earth, and we, being of the Earth Mother as well, must be thankful for both.
(Choose the carrot)
Eat well. Live in Love. Blessed Be.
Location: Kamuela, Hawaii
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