Wednesday, January 12, 2011


In The Velveteen Rabbit – and in the kitchen –  Real” matters.  The story speaks of Real as meaning well-loved, having experienced both the joy and the scuffs that come with it.  Real when it comes to food is not very different.

Not long ago, I was having dinner with my husband’s family.  It was a casual get together, and they had picked up dinner at a fast food restaurant that specializes in fried chicken.  I was eating probably my second fluffy biscuit, lavishly smearing honey on it, when I looked at the package of honey that the restaurant provided.  It wasn’t honey at all.  Well, honey was in it actually, but the label called it “honey spread.”  It’s first ingredient was corn syrup.

Recently, I made cheese soup for the family.  I have to say it was incredibly good.  But my heart was heavy as I added the necessary Velveeta.  Now that I make my own cheese, I suppose I take the real stuff a little more seriously.  I have liked Velveeta all my life, and I have to say that the soup was great.  But I cringe a little bit at the artificiality of it. 

Much of what we eat nowadays is artificial or processed in some way.  That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it should give us reason to stop and think.  In addition to being rarely the healthy option, artificial substitutes cater directly to our taste, or to some other immediate desire (like having something sweetened without calories).  They give us exactly what we want – what tastes good and is easy to consume – all for the purpose of making a sale.   This is not bad in itself, and the line between Real and artificial can sometimes be hard to draw.  But artificials fail to do something important that most Real things in life do.  They fail to challenge us.  They give us what is easy, rather than what will help us grow.  They do not call us to extend beyond ourselves or to increase our experienced. 

Now that I am a cheese maker – if a very amateur one – I think a lot about the vast numbers of types and flavors of cheese.  There are more than I could count, all of them different.  Some varieties of cheese are very accessible, their flavors and textures are familiar and likable.  Some call us to stretch, to think differently.  Any new taste will require us to risk displeasure for the sake of experience.  We might decide we don’t like what we try, but we will be better for having tried it.  Whether we like it or not, a new world will have been opened to us for having had the experience with what is Real.

Our relationships and our spiritual life carry the same potential as well as danger from being Real.  We can easily remain superficial, friendly, distant and without risk, just as we can remain stationary in our spiritual lives.  Or we can experience both the difficulty and the excitement of the new terrain that comes with potential friendship or with our own development.  Navigating the rough edges and enjoying the discovery are a wonderful part of the process in which we grow spiritually and gain true friends.

Using things that are artificial, processed and easy are not bad; they are just the equivalent of playing video games in your living room.  They are pleasant for a while, but can’t touch the possibility of, say, taking a hike out in the open air, seeing new vistas and engaging the Real world.  That’s what I choose.

I’ll probably make this soup again.  While I might quail a bit at the Velveeta, there is a Real relationship that goes with the recipe, and with the making and serving of it.  For now, that will have to be Real enough.

Blessed eating!

"What is REAL?" asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. "Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?"

"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real."

"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.

"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."

"Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?"

"It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."

"I suppose you are real?" said the Rabbit. And then he wished he had not said it, for he thought the Skin Horse might be sensitive.

But the Skin Horse only smiled.

Cheese Soup
3 cans cream of chicken soup            1 pint half and half
1 ½ cups milk                                       1 lb. Velveeta
1 can Rotel                                            salt & pepper to taste
3 chicken breasts boiled and cut in bite sized pieces

Combine first 7 ingredients and heat through allowing cheese to melt.  Add chicken last. – Marilyn Johnson


  1. I struggle in this post to say exactly what I mean. I am a strong believer in good foods, particularly the kind that come directly from God in the form of fruits, vegetables, nuts, etc. though I don't want to entirely disparage all things "artificial," I do realize the line is very hard to draw.

    For example, I make cheese. Cheese requires a certain amount of chemistry, i.e. mixing things together to produce something different. Cheese doesn't grow directly out of the ground. So how much difference is there between this chemistry and whatever chemistry makes up Velveeta?

    Still, I believe that there is a line to be drawn. With all the chemical additives, pesticides, modifications, etc that come in our food today - and given we don't know the effects of all of them - it is a good idea to move toward the more pure, organic and natural (even though I know, yes, this is an overused and commercially ambiguous word.)

    I'd love to hear your thoughts.

  2. Have you read "In Defense of Food?" Food for thought, quite literally. Very eye-opening. We've been very careful about what we buy and get mostly fresh produce, meats and dairy. No more canned goods (most of the time) and less pre-packaged foods. The really scarey ingredient is always "natural flavors." I think there are some disgusting natural things that I would rather not have in my food! Most of the time, this means MSG. Amelia

  3. Interesting stuff, Amelia. I have not read "In Defense of Food," but it is on my reading list. I am a fan of Michael Pollan from the times I've heard him interviewed.

    I think there are some pretty important food issues that are becoming more urgent, and we all are going to have to think about them a lot more. I'm going to try to keep addressing them in my blog. Thanks, Amelia!

  4. You may want to find a "slow food" group near you. They are a group of chefs and cooks who want more locally grown elements in all their dishes.

    We are moving as close to that as possible with what we eat.