Sacrament of the Present Oyster
A Meditation on Taste Buds by Joanna ES Campbell
Also by Joanna:
Recipe for a Marriage GO
How to Sell a House (When Everything's a Mystery) GO
Do You Like My Foodie Photo on Facebook? Dashing for Community GO
Clams and Other Mysteries GO
Montana: Discarded Wood, Family-Owned Sawmills, and Divine Mistakes GO
Popcorn Theology GO
Cooking as Spiritual Practice GO
Skirting the Surf: The Beginning of a Marriage GO
Getting Over Being a Radical Foodie Southern Health Nut GO
Local Food Dating Leads to God GO
Dear foodie friends,
I’ve been delayed in my food writing. My body got delayed in eating. A little stomach bug found its way inside me, and I couldn’t manage a teaspoon of water without a three-headed monster tearing through my body. I was reduced to a crumple wrapped around a toilet.
My husband, Dennis, took me to the doctor, and by the time we arrived at the 9th floor office, I couldn’t stand on my own. I lost feeling in my limbs, and my hands stopped working. The doctor didn’t mince words. Get to the ER, now. The emergency room nurse, an angel in disguise for sure, replaced the fluids I lost, which renewed my gratitude for the healing wonders of water and electrolytes. But I didn’t bounce back.
I wasn’t a rubber band. The new shape I assumed was thinner and weaker. I was one of those old green rubber bands you find in a drawer full of pens that dry up, but you still hold onto. Maybe these pens will work someday, you think. The doctors said it would take time to regain my energy. It would take time for my insides to heal. Hold off on Hot n’ Sour soup and Sriracha for a while, okay?
Okay, I vowed.
The first sign I may be coming down with something is a malaise that creeps over my body, wrapping its filmy gauze around my brain. Before I actually feel a symptom, there’s a sudden loss of interest in joyful things. From that first morning cup of coffee to the exhilaration of seeing a harbor seal from the ferry, none of these wonders offer what I normally take for granted – goose bumps or deep luxurious breaths, wide eyes, a half-second notation of gratitude, or that spark of happiness changing the course of the day.
The night of the three-headed monster, I lay numb in bed at 1 a.m. and realized I had zero interest in writing and art, in creation and delight. Have you ever felt this? It’s horrible. I don’t wish this emptiness on anyone. You feel like the living dead.
I spent the next ten days eating broth for each meal. Homemade broth made with love. Dennis pressure-cooked those precious Free Range chickens down to medicine. The first spoonful felt like a miracle. My body accepted the bubbling clear elixir. How incredible to be renewed by simple nutrients. Each cup brought me back to joy. Still, I had to be patient. I couldn’t rush into the arms of hot sauce. I couldn’t remember ever spending a day without spice.
I took each cupful with gratitude mixed with a needle of envy. Out of the kitchen wafted smells of food chemistry. Envy morphed into longing each time Dennis prepared his own dinner. Can you imagine a more tantalizing smell than onions and garlic sautéing in a cast iron pan? When he made the pot of pinto beans with peppers, I bent over and groaned. I accepted my cup of broth and said, Thank you.
I got this bug on the return flight from Turkey. Turkey was amazing. Turkey and Greece were both awe-inspiring. Aside from the designer food crammed into toothpaste tubes and that embarrassing moment when I accidentally squirted baba ghanoush all over my face and hair at the Ritz Carlton Hotel – aside from that moment – the food was delicious. Thick slices of warm bread drizzled in olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Bits of wild thyme on juicy tomato wedges. Grilled octopus. Slabs of feta sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds and fig honey.
And then I got sick. Maybe it was on the airplane. Somewhere over Greenland. That airline sanctioned pita pocket did me in. Maybe it was during the inflight entertainment. During the scene with Joaquin Phoenix in Her when he realizes his computer software is cheating on him with millions of people. All I know is this stomach virus brought me to my knees eight times every 45 minutes and emptied my body of the stuff that keeps me afloat. What percent of us is water? 50-65%? Half of me went into Puget Sound. An IV and a Free Range chicken brought me back to life.
Who said that beer is proof God loves us? I see it attributed to Benjamin Franklin and St. Francis. The sentiment may be true, but why reduce God’s love to a decent pint? What about onions and garlic? What about a pot of steamy pinto beans begging for dashes of Sriracha? A Baywater Sweet oyster? Or broken squares of Theo dark chocolate melting on your tongue? Maybe taste buds are proof that God loves us.
The bug robbed me of eating what I love. It took away my artist heart, at least for a spell. The bug arrived in a furry, and an angel nurse shoed it away. The bug fed a host of daydreams. I pined for the buttered mashed cauliflower Dennis made one evening two years ago, or the zing when I first tasted Pho (in a hospital cafeteria), or the sheer pleasure of grasping a peanut with chopsticks. I longed for these moments. I hungered for the freedom to enjoy the food on my plate, in my bowl, scooped by a spoon, or clasped between two sticks. I wanted my carefree life of nibbling as I cook and experimenting with ingredients. I wanted to play.
The bug depleted me. It also gave me something in return. The gift of savor – to dwell in the moment, to wholly enjoy. May I never forget.