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How to Cook Your Life

March 23, 2011

You can probably tell that I’m really into food documentaries lately (well, all documentaries really, but everything food-related always provides good fodder for Happy Bodies) and How to Cook Your Life is my latest venture.  This documentary by directed Doris Dörrie focuses on Edward Epse Brown, a zen master and chef.  The film doesn’t do a lot of editorializing, which is refreshing for a documentary about food.  The pacing is very calm, which goes hand in hand with the zen mindset that permeates the film.  Before I watched I read my friend Claire’s review that she posted to her yoga/food blog.  She has spent considerable time studying Buddhism and got the zen humor in a way I didn’t, but Brown is a funny guy regardless.  A lot of the film is spent watching him cook and teach classes, during which he is always laughing.  Often being in a kitchen, your own or someone else’s, can be stressful and frenetic.

I don’t have anything groundbreaking to say about this documentary, but a lot of it was spot on for me.  I have had a lot of food related meltdowns lately.  I made a cake from a recipe I saw on Smitten Kitchen (a really amazing food blog) and it turned out so horribly (which is not a reflection on the blog, mostly on me being a putz) that it sent me into a depressive tailspin.  I had such high hopes for the cake and those hopes were obliterated by how terribly it turned out.  It was such an upsetting experience that I couldn’t focus on how nice the evening had been overall, or that I got to supreme an orange!  I totally lost sight of  the cooking process because the result was the polar opposite of what I wanted.

Since starting this post (quite a while ago — I’ve been neglectful) I’ve adopted a gluten free diet, which involves being considerably more thoughtful about how and what I eat.  The documentary speaks to our cultural tendency to treat food solely as a commodity.  In a lot of ways there’s nothing individual or precious about our food.  For me, it can’t be about what foods I can’t eat anymore or trying to replicate those foods without gluten.  It must be about what I can do with the multitude of foods I can eat, working with my food to create a satisfying experience.  Just today I caught the last 8 minutes on the Sundance channel (buried deep in the bowels of cable TV) and just those few minutes of Brown laughing, meditating, and musing about the dynamics of a kitchen made my morning (and gluten-free baking) calmer.  This film won’t drastically change your mind about cooking, but it might nudge how you think about cooking in a more zen direction.

Rating: (3.5 skillets!)

Some details: How to Cook Your Life (2007), 94 minutes, dir. Doris Dörrie
If you’re so inclined, the film is presently available on Netflix instant watch.

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