Sunday, September 18, 2011

Nourishment from Nothing

Her steady, calloused hands gripped the edges of a large, metal pot that was filled with dents. She squinted her eyes as she maneuvered the heavy cauldron from the plastic, dirt-covered table, up over her head. Like her pot, this woman gave the impression that she had weathered many storms and that no foreseeable challenge would ever knock her off her block - not even the challenge of cooking in the midst of the world's largest garbage dump, as she has done for the for the past 20 years.

This Friday, I had the privilege of seeing the award winning documentary "Waste Land," which depicts the lives of the humble yet driven "pickers" who collect recyclable materials out of Jardim Gramacho, where 7,000 tons of garbage arrive daily from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. One of the pickers the documentary focused on was Irma, the woman I have described above, who cooks delicious, nourishing meals from foods that her fellow pickers find in the dump. While this may sound disheartening at first, Irma spoke about her cooking with nothing but pride.

My jaw hung loosely as I watched her stir her metal pot, pieces of tender chicken submerged in a bubbling brown broth. She was working with the ingredients and tools she had - ingredients that were thrown away, unwanted or forgotten. I consider myself a "resourceful" chef - scouring the fridge and pantry to use the ingredients I have on hand, but what Irma is doing takes sustainable eating to another level.

As I ate dinner that night, the food on my plate began to take on a new meaning. I am so thankful that I have access to fresh foods and that I can afford to buy ingredients when I need them. There have been times where I glance at my kitchen and feel uninspired, but thinking of Irma's creativity is motivation enough that we can create something beautiful and wonderful out of what most consider to be "nothing."

I'm not suggesting that you go dumpster diving for your next meal or feel that you have to use foods that are going bad. This week, as you sit down at the table with your family and friends, supping on spaghetti marinara or homemade chili, maybe you can think about Irma and her devotion to feeding her community with the little, but sufficient ingredients she has. Maybe each of us can look at our meal and eat it with appreciation, regardless of how simple or ordinary it may seem.

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