Brad Bird will often end up coming back into my writing because his team and he create for children, for the future, in the most innovative and liberating way, allowing themselves to free the child within and learn, as they rediscover the world around them as well as themselves. A favourite character in their animated movies is the rat chef, an association of words that in itself summarises the way that the minds are constantly challenged in the cartoon. Remi, the main character of this movie, Ratatouille, hints at this post’s theme, when he proclaims “Change is nature”.
It is funny how we can get so used to our surroundings that we start thinking that a stranger is familiar. Have you ever greeted a stranger by the name of the character they play on TV or simply recognised them as a familiar face, because their character and programme are regular parts of your life since you have let them into your home? The weirdest part of it is that it seems to always take a crisis for us to reacquaint ourselves with a world outside our usual one.
If none of your dependents, you first, had an allergy, a dietary issue, a diet-related medical issue or any such thing, apart from those we are born with, would you ever thing about changing your diet? No, why would you? While there are no known issue with what you are used to, why would you go through the hardship of change and new habits, even for the sake of exploration, if nothing is broken? I would even go to the extent that there is an amount of “broken” that we will continue to cope with for the sake of not changing: you know the “when you shower, don’t move the head please, it’s holding by a thread/screw” or “we don’t use that one this way otherwise it breaks”…
Of course most of us travel at one point or another and most even experience a different diet. But it seems that even in foreign countries, away from our environments, getting rid of our habits remains a pain, and to some, even an attack on our values. It is so anchored in our ways of thinking that we judge others by it and would not stop ourselves from thinking that what is not our habits is not right. No, tolerance is not about not attacking everyone who does not do as you, that is just laziness.
But it is not the worst it does. It stops us from discovering, learning and thereby evolving. It stops us from finding out that we are more than we think we are and to paraphrase someone in a book I once read, “what we know of ourselves stops us from knowing ourselves”, yes that is, our true selves, with our real powers, our real potential all untapped, ever, wallowing as we are in the safe waters of our routines, and of the royalties of the efforts we once made to get there or worse the efforts our parents (family) or predecessors (country, race…) made.
Anyway, I just made a quiche. I found out that I am not as slave to the wheat routine as I thought and made what turned out to be a beautiful pastry with rice flour. My pancakes which I already knew how to do with sarrasin (buckwheat) flour, I made fluffy and yummy with ground rice. With some gram flour, I visited Indian cookery at its finest and am still licking my fingers. South Africa taught me that there was more to beetroot plant than its purple root and its leaves made a stew that is still steaming in my head. DR Congo made some lovely fermented cassava to go, whose textures bring a welcome dimension of comfort to my meals. The braised fish of the Douala people in Cameroon has bewitched my senses and palate for life. Sorghum flour has made me some exceptional noodles and I thank the Orient for bringing the colour of their knowledge to my light. I don’t add Western cream/ketchup/mayonnaise, African or Indian chilli or spices or anything to disnature these meals even if I can modify them once I have understood their essence. I don’t want to make them more familiar. I want to explore further their own capacities and not fall into the trap of being confined in one or the other place, tradition or routine.
Now all this being said, it is important that those who have succeeded in changing (and generally in one particular domain) remember where they are coming from (reminding you of a post I wrote about the different people we have been at different times? 😉 ) and that we all have our own pace (provided of course that we start in the first place) and our own time for starting (and might not want to start I suppose until we are obliged to). It is most important that this is respected because you would never have become what you enjoy being if you had been obliged and pushed into it. It is the individual realisation of it that opens up our eyes. For, as change is nature, change, like nature, is a personal process with an individual trigger. For even though the film opened me up to the idea of a cooking rat, I might not quite be up for eating the resulting food as yet. Anton Ego himself, the critic “subjected” to such food, had to eat the food first, see two human beings serving it. Therefore he believed in the food without the distraction of that knowledge and with the obvious assumptions. Accepting the facts subsequently revealed to him and still write about the meal was an acceptance that his reputation was in the balance. Ego, no matter how anorexic looking, was desperate for and loved good food, and even as he came with doubt to the restaurant, could not but be curious about the possibility of tasting something life-changing. These high expectations hidden behind the sarcasm grown on having tasted too boring food glittered with the other critics’ more tolerating palates and the glitter of the chefs’ presentation no doubt overcompensating for a lack of depth in taste (or so would Ego think), have been constantly battered, yet the love for food still gets him out of his coffin-looking home like a hunter looking for the ultimate emotionally-quenching taste. He had no longer any choice but to surrender once he had tasted it.
Just like Ego, when life (not someone but an event) brings us to the opportunity of change in the very plate that we ordered, notwithstanding that we specifically chose to come to its restaurant, let’s not hide behind routine, fear, peace, doubt and other distracting cocoons and excuses to miss the opportunity to bite into what could very possibly be the next phase of our evolution and our betterment. And yes, it might not be, but only those who risk the disappointment like Ego and yet get up to taste the possibility of goodness, only those have no regret, experience the real opportunity for becoming more than anything they can imagine for themselves. Ego, a once morbid-looking man, found life again not by finding his passion (food he knew had always been that passion and that is why he became a food critic) but by both maintaining his integrity and daring to bite into the endless possibilities offered by his passion.