I don’t have a tv. Sometimes that comes as a shock to people, or at least a surprise.
I do have a computer, but since I live in Mexico, things like abc.com or hulu or even Netflix are either severely restricted or not available without technological work arounds (such as a proxy server, to prove to the geeky reader that I do know that is an option).
I didn’t throw out the tv in some fit of anti-consumerist righteousness—in my grandmother’s house, where I live, there never was a tv. Granted, there was never electricity, or a phone, or wifi, and I’ve managed to adjust to the addition of those things quite easily, thank you.
Don’t get me wrong—I enjoy watching a tv show or two or four when visiting friends who do have one of those new fangled modern inventions. But what I realized, in a conversation not long ago, is that I don’t really miss it. In fact, the limited Netflix subscription that I am able to get here in Baja? I never use it. Never. I think I have watched one movie in the more than six months since I reactivated the subscription (one might ask why, then, do I keep the subscription and it would be an appropriate question, which, for now, I’m ignoring).
Not only do I not miss it, but I’m not sure how I would have time for it. Seriously.
Because what I also realized is that, when I post food photos of what I have made or am eating for dinner, I think that many people have the same reaction to that as I did to the tv—how in the world would I ever have time for that?
So, what I then realized, brilliant ponderer of life that I am, is that for me dinner is my tv. Like a tv dinner, but backwards.
Because, pretty much, from about 5 or 6 pm when I come inside from working out in the yard or doing whatever I have been doing for the afternoon, I begin the process of dinner that will basically take me the rest of the evening. This is most definitely not ‘fast food’ in any sense of the word, though it is not always complicated or even time consuming. Most often it is quite enjoyable.
By that point in the day I don’t feel like getting in the car (which I tend to only drive every few days in my Baja life) so I am left to figure out something for dinner with the ingredients that I happen to have on hand. When those ingredients do not immediately present themselves as a menu, I go searching in my many (hard copy) cookbooks based on a particular ingredient I might decide to use that night, such as a sweet potato, broccoli, swiss chard, lentils, etc. Sooner or later something presents itself, either from the cookbooks or from my good friend google, and I set about the dinner prep process.
Often, during this process, I listen to a podcast from On Being with Krista Tippett (amazing, and highly recommended) or an audio book by Richard Rohr, Rob Bell or some other current day theologian (I know, that is probably not going to compete head to head with Desperate Housewives) or I listen to the live stream of news from my Al Jazeera iPhone app—I especially love the weather report and the ‘sporting report’ which are more like lessons in geography and geopolitics than simply weather or sport. Occasionally I put on music. Sometimes, I go the entire evening, with no ‘sound’ at all, other than me talking to myself (should I admit that?) or the onions sizzling in the pan. Some might consider that to be cavernously hollow. I find it peaceful.
More often than not, I wind up actually sitting down to eat dinner somewhere around 7pm. I do, of course, have to photograph my food—sometimes I actually let it get cold while I am getting just the right shot of it. And yes, even if I don’t photograph it, I still need to ‘plate’ it in an aesthetically pleasing way—why not make it look beautiful, even if it is just for me?
What is perhaps ironic is that the actual process of eating, since I am a rather fast eater, takes only moments, after sometimes an hour of prep, and then, when the plate is empty, after dinner clean-up.
When I was a little girl and my grandmother was still alive, living in the house, I made the mistake of asking her, “Mama (pronounced Maam-ma, not momma), you don’t have a dishwasher—how do you do the dishes?” Let’s just say I found out. And I’m sure she continues to chuckle as, each night after dinner, I find out yet again, with no machine to wash the dishes for me. (The good news is that the water from the sink drains out into the yard, and is what keeps the bougainvillea and the volunteer cherry tomato climbing up it both in fairly vibrant bloom.)
By the time the dishes are done, and usually left out to dry—drying dishes seems like such a ‘make work’ task when they can dry perfectly fine on their own—it is somewhere around 8pm. Now, I realize, that for many people that might be ideal time to sit down and begin watching tv, especially since shows (that are not recorded on the dvr) are often starting then. However, by the time I am done with a day working on the computer, then working in the yard, then making dinner, by about 8pm, if I am honest, it is pretty much transition toward going to bed time. Granted, I don’t actually go to bed at 8—but there is absolutely no shame in 9.
What I am realizing is that for me, the process of selecting ingredients, cooking, eating, and cleaning is a form of ‘entertainment’ if you will. I love to consider what I might make with the ingredients I have available to me, fresh from the garden or from the monday market. It does not seem like an annoyance—it is more of an adventure. I love to think up ways to use everything, so that (ideally) nothing goes to waste. It is a challenge, not a chore. And it matters to me to display that meal in a beautiful way, that celebrates the food—it is not simply fuel to keep my body going, but, I hope, a delight to the senses—or at least good.
Okay, here’s the part where I’m going to get a bit self-righteous…be warned. I’m sorry. I don’t really like being self-righteous. Even though I am an ordained evangelist. Next thing you know I will be on the corner with a megaphone and a sign saying “cook dinner or burn forever!” Anyway, I digress….back to the self-righteous point…
My question is this….does it strike anyone else as interesting, odd or a bit of an issue that we, in our culture today, so often do not have the ‘time’ for eating real food? Food that’s actually made at home, not food that we have to buy as fast food or pre-made ‘food’?
It seems that we make time for what we value, don’t we? It also seems to me that food is something to value, beyond simply filling ourselves up.
What if we were to see ‘food’ and its enjoyment as entertainment, or even as a way to relax and unwind from a busy day? What if cooking together or washing dishes together became a family activity (as my good friend Jen recently wrote about) instead of or at least alongside watching tv together?
I wonder, instead of having tv for dinner, what about having dinner for tv?
Lovely, Erin! Like you, I don’t have a TV and I don’t miss it. Also like you, I love real food. But all too often I’ll make a healthy but quick meal. I like the way you invite us to contemplative cooking and eating. Maybe I could start doing more of that, beginning with one meal a week.
A lot of my own TV-less hours are spent listening to music. I mean actually putting on a record and listening straight through. Music, like food, can call us back to attention, to beauty, to how big and how small the world is. Food is more than calories, and music is more than background noise.
Anyway, thank you. Great post.
I love it, nolan! Thanks for the encouragement to mindfulness in music…got any recommendations?
No TV either. Intentional, since 2002. I had a period in the 90’s without, broke down and went whole hog w Direct TV. But when I sold the house I was living in, the TV rig stayed behind w the new owners.
And I cook daily. And have “time” to walk to the gym (1.7 mi each way). I work on the computer though, and find myself “procrastinating” by surfing mindlessly. Trying to break the habit. I’d be better off w the housewives, I think. Or read more. Hey, that’s the ticket….
That is an amazing post Erin! I never reply to posts but you say so many important things, about food, our crazy culture and what is “normal”, and how we spend our time. If only we all spent as much time thinking about how we feed and nurture ourselves and our time! What did the Dali Lama say? “Approach love and cooking with reckless abandon!” I love it!!!
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