The title to this post is a simple question, and the toughest philosophical questions often start this way. "Why are we here?" or "What do I want in life?" are easy questions to ask, but frequently impossible to answer.
I realized today what my answer is, at least to my title question; I realized today why I cook. I cook because I like to nourish others. What could be more fundamental, more essential, more life-affirming than the act of nourishing others?
This epiphany occurred at 10:45am, after making my thrice-weekly delivery of hot soup and a sandwich to a 80-something-year-old man who lives in Squaw Valley near the Village. His daughter, concerned that he wasn't getting enough protein and good, hot food, arranged for Soupa to deliver soup and a sandwich every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Good deal, right?
Now, the astute reader will notice that today is Tuesday, meaning I don't normally deliver lunch today. Truth be told: yesterday I forgot. And I felt awful, just awful, positively suicidal that I had forgotten this octogenarian's hot meal. So today, I took extra care in preparing a Soupa club, a triple-decker toasted whopper with chicken, ham, bacon, tomato, lettuce and cheddar cheese. I filled the bowl to the absolute maximum brim with sweet pea and ham soup. I raced to his front door to make sure everything was still hot when I arrived. I cared.
And that is when I realized why I cook, why I love chopping vegetables, why I love tinkering with recipes and spices and herbs, even if I might not make the perfect cookie or the perfect spaghetti sauce from scratch every time. I cook because it provides me the opportunity to care for others. I never liked the holier-than-thou attitude of educational development work in my Masters program. While the underlying goal is the same- to help others in some way- I have found that my style is to share food, rather than push ideology.
Maybe it is selfish to cook so that I can feel satisfaction, so that I can feel like I am helping others. But perhaps the motive is beside the point. I do know that my 80-year-old friend smiled from ear to ear this morning and thanked me by name. There's no better reason to cook, no better reason to work, than that.