How I lived 21 years without learning how to properly grill a steak is, to me, a great mystery.
My summers of North Dakota bonfires and 4th of July parties certainly exposed me to enough opportunities to learn, but it was only this week I picked up the tongs and tried to figure it out.
Adding to the pressure was the fact that I wasn’t grilling for myself — I was helping prepare about 40 deer steaks for friends and strangers at a fundraising dinner and had accepted some of the responsibility of not blowing it for everyone.
I had a great time, and though the grilling god who watched over me wouldn’t let me completely ruin the donated meat we were preparing, I discovered more than I thought I would by pitching in.
The strongest sensation to overwhelm me while I stood in the sun flipping dozens of venison steaks on this massive grill was a pristine appreciation — there were an uncountable number of people in the world that afternoon who were miles away from so much food, and here it was cooly grilling away at my hands like no big deal.
There were even more people in the world that day who may have been as close to such a bounty as I but who would never get to taste it, burnt or not.
A thought like that really puts cooking into perspective.
Our reality is all about living things consuming other living things to go on. Whether you’re biting into a mule deer steak or a stick of celery, life has become death to beget life.
And no matter what side you’re on in the relationship, you know you’re contributing to it — to the endless transformations of universal transience.
When it so happens that you’re on the side that gets to enjoy a meal prepared with care, cooked to perfection and slathered in sriracha sauce, the relationship represents a beauty that only our tongues can come close to appreciating.
As the late English philosopher Alan Watts taught, a poorly cooked fish is a fish killed in vain.
How better could you respect the life you’ve turned into your own than by enjoying every inch of it? It’s given itself for you, and none of us know why it has to be that way — it just is.
I’d never pretend to understand the craziness of this situation, but I’m not about to let any of these transformations go to waste by feeling toward my food anything other than complete admiration.
You don’t need to be grilling to feel this way, of course — making mac n’ cheese has become a religious experience for me since I realized Cheez Whiz is really as mysterious as the dark side of the moon or the electricity that beats our hearts.
But I’m glad I got a chance to appreciate food in a new way — and so long as I’m on the side of this relationship that doesn’t involve being cut into pieces, grilled to a bloody medium rare and served in a buffet line, I’ll be damned if I intentionally let a fish be killed in vain or a deer steak burn to an inedible crisp.
Will Beaton is the editor-in-chief of The Dakota Student. He can be reached at [email protected]