The Zen of Food by Mike Verano

There’s a saying in Zen circles that goes:

Before Zen practice, trees were just trees and mountains were just mountains. During Zen practice, trees were no longer just trees and mountains no longer just mountains. After Zen practice, trees are once again just trees and mountains just mountains.

What this points to is the pure simplicity and beauty of all things Zen. It is the awareness that it is in the nature of things to be in harmony and balance, and that life is best enjoyed just as it is.

A similar saying could apply to the way we view our food. There was a time when it was just a way to meet one of our basic needs. While it’s certainly possible that our early ancestors mused over what type of bark water went best with roast yak; it is more likely that they were content to have secured yet another meal for the tribe. I’m sure there was the occasional celebration and that it was not long before Mr. and Mrs. Caveperson were sharing their favorite recipe for roast saber-tooth tiger with their neighbors. They could not have imagined, however, just how far this fascination with food would evolve, and more recently devolve, into an obsession with food that has given rise to a Dr. Frankenstein-like madness that is messing with the very forces of nature.

Things really began to sour on the food front when our species decided that it was not a miracle enough for tiny seeds to bring forth boundless harvests. No, we needed to one-up the natural order and have science take the reigns of the local food supply. Farmers gave way to geneticists who began to alter the process in order to . . . I’m at a loss to explain why they decided this was a good idea, although the phrase “There’s plenty of green to be made in those greens,” comes to mind.

One would have thought that we would have learned from splitting the atom to understand that when trying to match nature’s powers in creating a genetically altered split pea, we might unleash unforeseen forces. Einstein said that those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. In this case, it seems we are doomed to eat it. From one small sip of Tang, to one giant leap to the manufactured marvel that is the Pringle, we have all gained pounds and lost nutrients as our monster meals have now turned on their masters and are wreaking havoc.

Just when all seemed lost, and the GMO machine began to crank out foods which in some states would qualify as an intelligent life form, a guru appeared in the form of the farm-to-table movement. The message was simple, “Step away from the feeding trough and come back to your senses; sight, smell, touch, and taste.” The sound you won’t hear is that of a genetically altered tree falling in a make-believe forest (take that, all you Zen masters).

Thanks to the farm-to-table movement, food is once again food. Sanity is being restored to the food chain, as an increasing number of locavores are coming out of the cupboard and showing their pride in supermarkets, restaurants and family kitchens everywhere. Slowly, but surely, we’re heading for the day when GMO will only stand for “Give Me Organic!”

This is not to say that there aren’t still challenges ahead for those of us who love to eat but cried fowl when big corporations invented the chicken nugget. Of course, there will always be those who will give a pass on the home-grown, red, ripe, and bursting with juice, tomato in favor of those pink things with the baseball-like firmness that have come so far across country that they have their own frequent flyer miles. Of course, there will always be those who see nothing wrong in consuming foods that come from a laboratory rather than from a labor of love. Let us take the Zen path and simply let them be. Let them eat their genetically altered, chemically enhanced, pseudo-food. That just leaves more naturally grown, organic, hormone-free, goodies for the rest of us.

In keeping with the Zen attitude, here is a recipe for simply the best fried oysters Kathy and I have ever eaten.

Guinness Fried Oysters

1 jar fresh local oysters (preferably purchased in a month that ends in r) click here to see why
1 1/2 pints stout, such as Guinness
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 pinch seafood seasoning, such as Old Bay
1 pinch salt
1 pinch ground black pepper
Vegetable or canola oil, for frying

Marinate the oysters in the beer for 30 minutes or more.
Heat a few inches of oil in a large sauce pot to 350 degrees F. Combine the flour, seafood seasoning, salt and pepper. Dredge the marinated oysters in the flour, and then shallow-fry until golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Set oysters on rack to drain and then serve.

We served them with 2 dipping sauces. The first was simply Frank’s Hot Sauce. The second was a mixture of mayo, horseradish and spicy mustard mixed to your taste for heat. If you really want to take it up a notch, mix the two together and serve with a freshly poured pint of Black & Tan.


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