Monday, November 5, 2007

A Pomegranate Meditation

Pomegranate photo by theogeo on Flickr using Creative Commons

I was just lamenting the onset of the cold, dark season (brought abruptly by the combination of the end of daylight savings time and a shift in mood by Mother Nature) when I came home to find the pomegranate I'd left out last night waiting for me. I had forgotten that I'd left it in the middle of the counter, much like a bright centerpiece, so that I wouldn't neglect to prepare it for my salad this evening - I guess my trick worked, because I couldn't miss it.

I had also forgotten what a sensual experience preparing a pomegranate can be. Pomegranates are not for the faint of heart. Their brazen red color splashes and stains everything in sight. A sweet, tart burst of flavor flashes on the tongue just before you meet a surprising crunch. And one must gently coax the berries from the rind with a lover's touch. It's no wonder the pomegranate has earned a reputation for symbolizing life and fertility.

It seems a shame that some would need (or think they need) an instruction manual for preparing and consuming such a pleasurable fruit. Sure, pomegranates stain, but so does red wine, and I don't know anyone who avoids it for that reason. Corks are pretty tough to open, too, at least for some of us. (ahem) I believe, though, that anyone stranded on a desert island would quickly figure out how to find and prepare native food items. I think it's just the thinking part that confuses some. Remember how you learned to walk, to speak, to ride a bike. Did anyone show you how to peel a banana or open a peanut? Perhaps so, but much of the learning was experiential, or trial and error. And, after all, while there may be a less messy or more efficient way of getting to the good parts of our fresh food, there really is no wrong way of doing it.

As I opened my pomegranate, I fully understood abundance. I had the distinct notion that I was opening a gift, and marveled at how the fruit seemed to keep producing, even after I was sure I had discovered all the arils (seed casings). For those who haven't experienced the pomegranate, the arils appear like juicy red kernels of corn, and the pulp appears much like honeycomb, or corn on the cob once the kernels are removed.

I reveled in the splashing juice (which I quickly cleaned up after I was done), laughing at the mess I was making. I can only liken the tactile experience of opening a pomegranate to that of seeding a pumpkin, although the pumpkin is much stringier while the pomegranate is juicier. I prided myself in freeing each and every one of the little rubies, feeling as if I'd been the first to find a hidden treasure. The experience was much like finger painting in school - I knew it was what I was supposed to be doing, but something inside wondered if this messy goodness wasn't somehow naughty.

The exercise of preparing a pomegranate became a meditation for me, during which I came to understand fertility, abundance, pleasure, play, sensuality, experiential learning, hunger and satisfaction, creativity, and more. I often wonder how our ancestors discovered that they could make bread from something like corn or wheat, and I realize it was through experimentation and hands-on experience that much of our collective body of knowledge and survival skills was borne.

This is the type of sensual experience we need to have with our food. Experiencing our food completely, from understanding how it got onto our plates, recognizing it for the gift that it is, to preparing it and appreciating it with every one of our senses, is one way to retrain our palates to enjoy fresh, seasonal (and hopefully more local) foods, while becoming more knowledgeable about the impact we have when we select a certain food item. Opening ourselves to the abundance and joy that our planet's environment generously provides is one of the ways in which we can remember what it is we're working toward, as well as a way in which we can teach others to love and respect the Earth and its gifts.

Pomegranates are one of the reasons I want to save the planet from irreversible climate change. Maple syrup, Siberian tigers, lavender fields, freshwater lakes, and radiant autumn leaves are a few more. What are your reasons?

(For those interested in local eating, it's true that my pomegranate did travel from California to Ohio to grace my plate and my mouth. However, considering it is in season in North America, that I eat no more than 1-2 pomegranates per year, that there are no local pomegranates in Ohio, and that it is considered to be a holy delicacy by nearly all the world's faiths, I felt I could justify it.)