Creative and imaginative people always expand into new areas of thought. Where to next for plant-based food?
Being vegetarian or vegan has for decades been a part of alternative culture. Now it is becoming quite normal which is great news! The numbers of vegans are growing fast and nearly everyone has meat-free meals on a regular basis.
The answer is that food is the most sensory and multidimensional form of art and something we have to engage with every day. Most art fills one or two senses (sight and touch in particular) but cooking and eating engages all of the senses in so many possibilities we’ve hardly begun to explore.
Shopping is an art form too
The sense-feast starts with visiting a bustling produce market—where we are surrounded by sights and sounds. The aromas of ripe fruits and spices fills the air. We can touch and feel the living fruits and vegetables. Interactions with vendors also engage our sense of taste as customers sample a segment of fruit before buying.
Plant-based food is colourful. The bright hues in vegetables are the amazing phytonutrients which boost vitality and health. Even humble beans and lentils are brightly coloured even when dried.
Cooking and preparation
Now we can add our own human creative touch to the beauty of nature… beginning with cutting and preparing the raw vegetables and fruits into a wonderful edible display. Then decorating with edible leaves and flowers. Our eyes can delight at this wonderful co-creation.
Our sense of hearing is then engaged as the spices are ground, or the onions are sizzled. Simultaneously the sense of smell is delighted as the spices and herbs are prepared and roasted. Sense of touch comes in as we hold the vegetables, and feel the water between our fingers as we wash and prepare them. The warmth of the steam, the radiant glow from the oven. Finally the sense of taste as the flavours explode in our mouth.
Like an orchestra…
Cooking comes with a music of its own… the sizzling in the pan, the percussion grinding with pestle and mortar, the chopping which is like a rhythmic heartbeat. The steam blows from the pans like a flute. The cook can also join in this chorus with sounds of laughter, delight and excitement.
The next sense to be aware of is smell. The amazing aromas of the spices, the sautéing. Stop and experience the aromas as they develop and change.
Cooking has a language of sound and smell if we care to listen. It is trying to communicate with you. Breads and cakes send a delicious aroma when they are ready. Onions will send a sweet fragrance as they caramelise. Spices will reveal when they are perfectly roasted.
Great chefs know that presentation is as important as taste. The prepared foods are how the artists paints the plate the canvas decorated with edible leaves and flowers.
Our sense of sight is delighted, of smell overwhelmed then of course taste. This is so important but often we skip over it in a rush. Great art needs to be contemplated and absorbed and tastes savoured. A gastronome is trained to distinguish and appreciate flavour the first is sweetness.
This is the most common taste in fruits and vegetables. Rice, bread and potatoes are sweet and in your mouth the sugar is released from these starchy foods. As you slowly chew it becomes sweeter So sense the increasing sensation of sweetness. The next taste is sour, normally from a squeeze of lemon, unripe fruits or vinegar. Sense this taste too and feel it as it stimulates your palate and appetite.
Then the bitter taste in the fresh green leaves. Be aware of this too as a separate sensation. Bitter is like sour and can make us wince a bit but it is different. Bitter taste also stimulates digestion particularly the liver.
Then the pungent taste which is hot like chillies. But a great artist utilises more subtle ones like ginger, horseradish and black pepper. Which creates layers of flavour. Also notice how the textures and tastes interact. A well balanced spice mix is like music. An orchestra has so many sounds and instruments its hard to pick out each one. But together they create a richness of sound and a smoothness.
Now be aware of the sensation of touch. Beginning with the sensation of food in your mouth. The qualities and sensation as you chew the food. Is it warm or cold, soft or rough, dry or moist. Touch also continues as we digest the food. It is still touching our skin all the way down the digestive tract.
A trained food artist is aware of these sensations which are also giving us vital information. Does the food feel soothing as we digest it, or is it uncomfortable? This is the best guide to if a food suits us. It a bit like holding a person’s hand. Sometimes it is a wonderful touch, and at other times it feels uncomfortable or hostile. We can tell a lot though our palms and fingers. The food too is touching us from the inside.
Investment in food art
Food art isn’t something we can keep in the safe and resell at a tremendous profit after many years. But it is a great investment for the future in a much more valuable way.
Eating and savouring a multicoloured plant-based diet is a key to health and longevity. Its ecological advantages benefit everyone too.
So we all get a chance to live a bit longer.