For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been trying to write something more substantive, whether it was a detailed meal plan with recipes (how to make dim sum at home) or an essay on social issues (the state of family farms in America), but I kept getting distracted. There were too many competing ideas in my brain.
It seemed like a good time for a “random thoughts” post to clear the air. Here are a few things I’m thinking about right now –
Gratitude: I and most people I know are incredibly fortunate in our access to food. I’ve written about this before, and it never ceases to amaze me.
Yesterday, Jay and I went grocery shopping. I made a list, but we added extra items to the cart without a second thought. When we got home, I made a huge pot pasta with 3 pounds of fresh veggies. Then I made chicken quinoa chili in the slow cooker for a week’s worth of work lunches. Later in the afternoon, I made chocolate-swirled mini challah bread buns for fun. I also picked up ingredients for brown butter chocolate chip cookies because I’m going to test cookie recipes with different butter ratios.
Good fortune always brings me back to the same question: how do I exercise this privilege responsibly? Just because I can spend $10 on a small box of fancy imported sea salt, doesn’t mean I should. And that’s just the most expensive salt at Whole Foods, not the kind of specialty grocers favored by the foodie set. When (if ever) is something like that justified? How much pleasure do I derive from posting photos of my cooking projects to social media, and what incremental benefit is there in having the expensive sea salt?
In the cold light of utilitarianism, all of this pretense seems absurd, but I’m not sure where to draw the line in the cake flour. For now, I’m going to stick to simple wisdom: never waste food. Never. If I’m wasting food, I’m doing it wrong. If I’m eating out, ordering too much, throwing stuff away before I can eat it, I’m doing it wrong. If I’m buying groceries, then ordering delivery instead of cooking after work, letting fresh food languish in the fridge until it loses its appeal, I’m definitely doing it wrong.
Eliminating food waste from my household is the first big step in expressing my gratitude. This is pretty obvious, but sometimes it’s nice to have a reminder.
Lifestyle Creep: Food spending is a subset of a bigger topic – lifestyle creep, “keeping up with the Joneses.” I’ve thought about this a lot since Jay got his new job with the big kid salary. Through school, we’ve always felt that we had more than enough and now we have even more than more than enough.
What do we do with it? Save like crazy with a sniper-like focus on financial independence? Upgrade our lifestyle and outsource inconvenient tasks to paid professionals? Buy property like many of our friends have recently? Commit our disposable income to highly effective charities through GiveWell as a handful of our socially conscious Princeton buddies do?
Luckily for me, Jay has a really healthy relationship with saving and spending money, in large part because he is comfortable with himself. He is frugal, without being cheap, stingy, or resentful. He feels little temptation to spend more, even when he can. He’ll call me out if I’m being wasteful, but he’ll support me in seeking out meaningful, unique experiences. For example, he thought we spent too much on mediocre restaurant meals last month (agreed), but he was also excited about trying one of Chicago’s famed 3-star Michelin star restaurants (at $300-$500 per person).
In my mind, money drives what you are allowed to want. People with more money are entitled to more. It’s a deeply emotional relationship between life and finances. For Jay, I think, it’s different. He wants what he wants, which isn’t much. Money is just a useful tool.
So, when it comes to lifestyle creep and my recent uptick in disposable income, how do I combat my desire for more? Just run stuff by Jay first!
(Okay, I see now that this was just another note on gratitude. I’m okay with that.)
Meditation – After months of pretending to meditate while actually just sitting on my couch thinking a million different things and not making any effort at all to clear my mind, I’m finally consistently meditating again.
I try to sit for 10 minutes every morning before I leave for work. It’s a ritual. I get up, get dressed, make my coffee, then sit cross-legged on the rug in the living room, using an app on my phone as a timer.
I found that sitting for five minutes was too short for me. I was barely able to look inward before it was over. I’d get up, pat myself on the back for meditating, check that off my to-do list, without experiencing any of the benefits of meditation.
10 minutes is a perfect length right now. I used to do longer, more elaborate meditations with different mantras and breathing techniques, but these days it’s all about basics.
Breathing in, I am breathing in.
Breathing out, I am breathing out.
That’s it. Sometimes I get distracted and when I come back to my breath I realize that I’m breathing out as I say (in my head) “Breathing in…” or vice versa, so I just laugh at myself (kindly) and correct the rhythm.
Occasionally, I’ll switch up the words, but the rhythm remains the same.
When breathing in: Let compassion be my guide.
When breathing out: Let humility be my anchor.
The words change day-to-day, but the structure is the constant: breathe in what you want to gather up from the world around you, breathe out what you want to share with the world. As simple as the breath, as complex as abstract moral constructs. Alternatively, you can think of it as breathing in what you need more of, breathing out what you need less of.
Breathing in generosity.
Breathing out arrogance.
(Arrogance, identifying it and rooting it out of the darkest corners of my personality, is kind of my white whale. More on that some other time.)
Being American – I’ve spent a lot of time in this election cycle thinking about what it means to be an American. The stark reality is that there are people in this country who live in a completely different world from me. Not by choice, largely by birth. In light of this reality, it seems there is no such thing as a” real American,” only an empty pinata we stuff with the tastiest morsels of our personal ideologies. Then we go find someone else’s American pinata and try to beat the shit out of it to prove our superiority.
When liberal politicians and their spokespeople talk about America as a nation of immigrants, they’re not wrong. When conservatives champion American values as an extension of Christian values, they’re not really wrong either. Everyone just has a different interpretation of what it means to be American and how the government should go about protecting that ideal. Some positions are less defensible under current social norms than others, and some policies are simply illogical, but what this election has brought to light is a much more fundamental divide in basic beliefs.
Who’s to say what is or is not American? What does that word even mean any more? Because everything I thought it meant has been stripped down by this election, left beaten, bloody, and naked in the public eye.