by Barbara Wright, chef and kitchen manager
For most of us food plays many important roles in our lives. It defines our culture and brings our families and friends together. Eating gives us pleasure, comfort and can entertain us as well. One of food’s most important roles is to provide us sustenance, to nourish our bodies, to give us the energy we need to accomplish what we do in our lives and to make us healthy and fit. Food provides a rich profusion of experiences for our senses and adds to our daily topic of conversation.
As the chef at Holy Wisdom Monastery, food is central to my life. I have been cooking for a living for 44 years, since I was 15 years old. As a self-taught chef, I struggled to learn the fundamentals of cuisine because I needed to have cooking skills to qualify for better paying jobs. I married young and so providing for my two children was often behind my decision to work in one aspect or another of the food industry. Only in the last twenty years have I been able to put my accumulated skills together into the art of cooking and feel comfortable with my role as chef.
Barbara Wright (left) prepares lunch with the help of volunteer Anne Gravel.
How we relate to food and its preparation is all about choices. I have spent some of the last 20 years working within the community to make people aware of their choices relating to food. Nearly every day we chose what to put in our mouths. In these choices is the power to make our lives, our health and our world better. Will we choose to cook at home or eat in a local restaurant? Will we choose fast food or slow food? Will we shop for food at a big box store or at the co-op? Will we get a Community Support Agriculture (CSA) share, go to the farmers’ market or grow a garden in our back yard?
Here at Holy Wisdom Monastery, the sisters have made sound and wise decisions about the food served in their community. People choose to come to our Retreat and Guest House for the spiritual workshops, classes and reflections. The sisters have made the choice that along with sustenance for the mind and the spirit, the guests will also receive healthful, delicious foods for the body.
“St. Benedict wanted his communities to have enough food for their needs. We believe that healthy, nourishing meals are important to a renewing retreat experience.”
The availability of freshly grown, chemical free produce coming out of the garden here at Holy Wisdom is almost a dream come true to any chef, but especially for me. I have always cooked from scratch even when other chefs were relying on prepared foods like soup bases, gravy mixes, and ready-made desserts. Nothing gives me greater pleasure than to begin with an array of fresh colorful vegetables, fresh green herbs and a few spices and end with a delicious dish I can serve to hungry and appreciative guests. There is almost a Zen quality to the beauty and abundance of cooking with plants that grew from tiny seeds in the dirt. The sisters and volunteers put in long hours of hard work to grow these nurturing, sustaining crops for use in the kitchen.I not only enjoy cooking for our guests, but getting to know them while they are here. Food brings people together and I’ve enjoyed getting closer to the members of Sunday Assembly and the Oblate community as well. The sisters have allowed me to offer classes in cooking and canning to help build the skills of the good cooks and the curious from the Holy Wisdom Monastery family.
Stewardship of the land and the community is a large part of the efforts that go into the garden here. It is a wonderful thing to see. Many people have no idea about the amount of packaging that goes into the waste stream from most food service operations. Just glance at the dumpsters behind restaurants, hospitals, or other facilities and you will find a mountain of plastic, cardboard and glass. Here what you’ll find is a lot of vegetable peelings ready for composting. The amount we contribute to the landfill is minimal. The beautiful kitchen in the monastery is a model of how to incorporate sustainability into every aspect of design.
The sisters of Holy Wisdom Monastery, with their understanding of sustainability, are doing great things for their own physical health and the health of their guests, but also for the health of the community, the economy and society. Come see and taste the bounty from the garden. Even with the drought, the abundance keeps growing.