The other night I attended an amazing free cooking class for vegan Indian food. Besides learning how to make the dishes that were prepared, I realized I took home a much bigger lesson that night. One that reaffirms a dream I have to open up a free cooking school for low-income families that have diabetic or pre-diabetic members.
The class was structured so that Tashu (our gorgeous, charismatic instructor) cooked the meal in real time. We got up from our seats and stood around the stove with her, watching her work and listening to her explain what she was doing, asking questions as they came up. At first, I was a little nervous when she beckoned us up to the stove but it ended up being one of the most fun classes I’ve ever been to.
Watching Tashu work, she was able to engage all of our senses and teach us the art of cooking, not just a recipe. We got to see the orange sheen of oil that forms on the edge of the pan when the base for the sauce is almost ready. We got to smell the onions, garlic, ginger and spices. We were able to touch and see whole cardamom (two different types, in fact!). We experienced the making of the meal and it reminded me of how cooking used to be a way for people to learn from each other. It used to be a way to exchange not just technique, but information. As we watched Tashu cook, we asked questions not only of her, but of each other. I swapped tips with all the people standing close to me, connecting with them in a way I wouldn’t have been able to if we all stayed in our seats watching from a distance.
I’ve felt for a long time that this tradition is hurting our culture, our knowledge as a people. Many of my friends have no idea how to cook, and this makes them feel powerless when it comes to food. People who want to change their lives are hindered by not knowing how to make even the most simple dish. Additionally, we are losing yet another way to connect while we continue to put up electronic walls between each other.
I have no problem with technology, I am a technophile for sure!, but a text or email can’t possibly replicate the connection that happens when you watch someone do something they are good at and participate in it. I could explain to all of you how to pick a good avocado (and I will, soon!) but you won’t feel the bond with me as you would if we were at a grocery store or farmer’s market and I took your hand, pressed a cool, ripe avocado into it and moved your fingers to show you how to test it. It won’t be the same as me picking an overripe, under ripe and perfectly ripe avocado and showing you how to touch, see and smell the difference between each one. And I promise if we had that experience together, you would find yourself showing someone you care about what I taught you, you would duplicate the lesson and that person would teach it to someone else, and the knowledge would live and grow.
So, go out today, tonight, this week. Find someone in your life who knows a lot about (or enjoys) something you don’t and ask them to show you how to do it. It can be something as simple as doing the laundry – you’d be shocked at how much you can learn from someone who is really good at laundry! Do it with them, participate, ask a lot of questions. Thank them, show them you respect their knowledge, and then offer to share some of your own. I think you’ll be moved by how deeply this experience will resonate with you, how it will add a new color and weight to that relationship, no matter how serious or casual.