Monday, April 20, 2015

"Son Mat" Says It All. Or Quite a Lot.

Son mat  projects in progress:  sauerkraut, mead.

I get crazy about food preparation. "Healing-and-spiritual nutrition" takes over my brain. My kids joke about the overkill of food when they visit.  This form of maternal/paternal food-crazy is widespread, through families and cultures. Food is maybe its own religion. Food is Love, especially when prepared by the hands of those who love us.  Hence the title of this post:

Son mat:  the taste of hands. 

Son mat is a Korean phrase I borrowed from an article about kimchi (1).   My paraphrased definition, from the excerpt below, is: the physical touching and preparation of food imparts a change in that food, and to our bodies and  minds. Like anything in Nature, this change occurs over time.

My family raised, foraged, preserved, cooked food on a 75-acre farm. We were surrounded by food in its native state: cows, pigs, chickens, truck garden, wild berries--a typical rural connection. Typical urban food connection, though, is the most common food experience in the U.S. today: processed, fast-food, ready-made.  Most people eat out frequently; and as my friend the Detroit food inspector assures me, restaurants are dirty places.  Food preparation, at home, from ground-up is time-consuming, and dirty.  When it comes to growing, harvesting, and killing food, most people prefer to sanitize the connection: "if I don't see it, it doesn't happen."  So, folks in the U.S. today don't toss food scraps to the pig whose bacon they eat in restaurants.  Most don't weed, or water, or oversee the life-and-death of lettuce from the store.  Our urban food supply is not grown hands-on, nor by people we know. Sometimes not by people, at all. Does a physical connection make a difference in the healthful-ness of our food? 

Many in the U.S. are thinking, or remembering, "yes."  Many other cultures have never left that connection.  (In defense of the U.S., we are a very young culture, and going through adolescence is not easy. If we don't kill ourselves and the rest of the planet, we'll do great things.)

As a result, many people are practicing a revival of hands-on food.  A generation of baby-boomers "left the farm," and the next generation is looking to recover that connection. New words are surfacing to describe this revival, a sure-fire sign of cultural change.  They reference the old American habit of going off West to start a new life: urban homesteading, survival homesteading, off-the-grid.  The shared consciousness of Internet fires the food Can-Do and DIY spirit.  So does growing recognition of our eco-system's fragility.  This revival includes personalizing food.  Urbanites are growing their own, eating local and in-season, preserving food.  Borrowing a term from Buddhism:  mindfulness.  Be aware of what goes in our body. Screw fast-food thinking.

 I'm taking the fermented route to food-as-religion, and resurrecting Mom's 10-gallon sauerkraut crock.  The plan is to fill it with pickles from the garden, and watch them ferment throughout the winter months.  That's the plan.  I shared the plan with my backyard neighbor, suggesting that if she were up for it, we could share our common chain-link fence to great advantage by planting pickles on either side of it.  By uniting resources, I explained, we'd be in better shape for the Apocalypse.  She looked up at the sky and casually asked,"When is this Apocalypse?"  I answered that it would be when the Zombies come.  Of course.

I'm also harnessing wild yeast for sourdough starter, none of that sissy store-bought stuff for this survivalist homesteader. ( I read in  my new bible, "The Art of Fermenting" by Sandoor Katz, that shared sourdough starter takes on the name of whoever shares it. I thereby name mine:  Patsy Cline.)  And I'm working on  mead, because  the world needs hands-on alcoholic beverages. I love my food from the moment of it's birth.  And now my obsession has a great personal motto: son mat.  (I will (hand) make a T-shirt with my motto.)

Here is an excerpt from the kimchi article mentioned above:

" But Korean's affinity for kimchi goes deeper than just a tasty pile of cabbage.  Kimchi-making is traditionally a woman's job in Korea, where recipes are passed down from generations.  Most people have fierce pride in their mother's kimchi; it is intimately connected to the maker as she handcrafts batches, and it is thought that her hands help impart that perfect taste.  In describing flavors of kimchi, many talk about son mat, literally translated as "the taste of hands."  I vividly remember my mother soaking her hands --flushed and swollen from touching the salt and chilies--in a milk bath after spending an entire day making kimchi. . . . I came to believe that a combination of the cold weather, my grandmother's chilly kitchen, the heat of the chili, the stink of the garlic, and the brininess of the salt penetrated my mother's hands and released her son mat into the kimchi."  (1)

If God is in the details, as they say, surely hands-on food is as good a place as any to find Her. Who doesn't want to leave a little of themselves in those we love?  Passing on the taste of our body, feeding yeast and bacteria to live on in our descendants. The definition of "re-incarnation " keeps broadening (2).

1.  Kim, Chi-Hoon.  "From Kim-chi to Infinity."  Hyphen;
     PBS site re-posted by Sandoor Katz on Facebook, 4/11/15.
2. This blog post is on the verge of proclaiming bacteria my take on re-incarnation.  For my take       on  DNA as re-incarnation, check out my blog post 10/14/14:  "Conversation on the Afterlife, Part 1: