Monday, August 6, 2012

When Artists Cook

Over the next few weeks, I'll be introducing you to the team of artists/writers who will be the regular contributors to this series "When Artists Cook". 

This week, I am extremely thrilled to be able to welcome Bethann Merkle, of "fruit.root.leaf".  Bethann and her husband author a beautiful blog that offers a perspective on living life to the fullest - by experiencing new people and places, gazing from mountain tops, and engaging in local food, economy & community. 

Bethann is a native of a small town in Montana. She was brought up on home-grown, preserved, and prepared food.  Bethann's parents' motive was frugality, which persists in her approach to food today.  Over time, her interest in food has expanded to include international flavors, local production, hunting, gardening, nutrition, cookbooks, and recipe development.  Local, conscious, and ethical food sources are a top priority. 

Bethann is also an accomplished artist and illustrator.  She reads voraciously, illustrates books and science education material, edits food and science articles for popular and peer-reviewed publications, photograph minutia, and volunteers compulsively.  

Bethann and her researcher/wildlife biologist husband (originally from Arizona), moved from Montana to Québec in early 2011. As Anglophones learning French as fast as they can, Québec presents a challenge unique in their experience.


Hi everyone, Bethann here, welcome to When Artists Cook. Let me start by sharing a little about myself.  

I came of age in a series of Montana kitchens and gardens, though I recognize this largely in retrospect.  My childhood had a yellowish-glow, derived from the overwhelmingly vibrant 1960s-era styling of my parents’ kitchen.  Picking off potato bugs and canning peaches with my mother gave way to flipping eggs on the flat grill at the local greasy spoon. 

Later, working in the kitchen of a high-end guest ranch exposed my taste buds, and appreciation for homemade food, to ranch-style gourmet cooking - fresh bread, buttermilk ranch dressing from scratch, abundant produce from the garden tucked between guest cabins and an aspen stand, and a set of cooks who knew how to conjure up magic from seasonal staples like rhubarb and summer squash.  

Eventually, I became aware of major food system issues, and became dedicated to local and organic foods as only a college-age kid can chose a cause.  I majored in a combination of sustainable food, natural history, and studio arts, with a hefty helping of writing and literature on the side.

I re-taught myself how to can seasonal produce, dug my fingers deep into the fertile realm of organic gardening, and developed a tradition of baking bread weekly with my mother while home each summer.  I tried to phase out plastic in my life, and immersed myself completely in the local food sheds of my hometown and university town.  And...I made my loving family crazy!  

What they taught me during that period remains as fundamental to my food philosophy as “Know your farmer.”  
Food, its cultivation, preparation, service, nourishment, and biochemical reaction with our bodies, is a gift.  Knowing where the food we eat comes from, and how it was made, is key to my understanding of how to make positive change on an individual and social level.  

However, sometimes, ignorance really is bliss in the food arena.  When my friends and family take time to make meals with the intention of sharing them with me, nourishing our relationships and bodies takes priority over whether that food was sourced locally, spared a chemical cocktail, or produced from heritage breeds and seeds.  Gratitude for where life comes from trumps it all.

When artists cook, sketching the feast is a graphic way of saying grace.  In my mind, this blend of consciousness and humility, of deliberate, individual activism coupled with respect for others’ worldviews, is an art form of its own.  Dirty dishes and  sketchbook pages speckled with crumbs bear testament to it. 

You can visit Bethann's blogs by clicking the links below.

Thanks for checking in xx