Food for Body and Soul

Deborah Madison explains how growing her own ingredients makes mealtime truly nourishing.

By Deborah Madison


In his book Coasting, Jonathan Raban writes about sailing a boat around Britain. By constantly studying the coastline and taking his bearings on anything he could identify, then marking his progress on a map every 15 minutes, he was able to chart his course.

Such attentive referencing left him with a vivid memory of the British coast, which, he says, is a profoundly different experience than sailing while watching GPS-monitored progress.

Reading Raban, I immediately recognized what he was saying through my experience cooking from a garden versus going to the store. Growing your own leaves a deep, lasting imprint on your body, psyche, and memory.

Imagine it's before dinner and you're on your knees in front of a squash plant that has weathered the summer. Your hands part its big leaves, then slide over the sleek, shiny bodies of the ribbed 'Costata Romanesco' zucchini, assessing their natures and deciding which ones to pick.

Meanwhile, in a supermarket somewhere, a woman is turning over a shrink-wrapped package of dull-skinned zucchini. With distance, our relationship with food weakens. Those of us who garden are ecstatic about finding the first shoots of asparagus in the spring.

But having no intimacy with asparagus flown here from Peru, we consequently recall little about eating it, even though it has made a rather astonishing journey, one that few asparagus spears have made before.


I believe that it's contact and memory, both of which increase as distance decreases between the soil and the table, that mark the difference between merely feeding and really nourishing ourselves.