Beets weren’t a loved vegetable in our house when I was growing up. They came from a can, their juices staining my mother’s hands. Mom was the only one who’d eat them. A meat and potatoes man, my father would condescend to a salad on occasion or root vegetables with his roast or sauerkraut with chops, that sort of thing. Vegetables weren’t much more than garnishes to him. We played the game MOM IS SO WEIRD a lot at the dinner table.
It wasn’t until I experienced one golden morsel on my plate in an expensive north Toronto restaurant run by one of the city’s first celebrity chefs that I came to understand the true abomination of canned red beets. The texture of this pale yellow unknown thing on my plate against my tongue and teeth woke my sense of what vegetables could be—an experience like none other, novel to me, yes, but also something greater that I couldn’t articulate then.
I asked the waitress, What am I eating?
Turned out it was an organic golden beet grown on Chef’s farm, plucked from the soil that morning and roasted in its skin until a certain sweet, earthy flavor all its own could complement the rest of my plate, of which I have no recollection beyond the beet.
I was in my twenties on that evening, celebrating an anniversary with my husband. It was probably our first or second. I don’t know. Husband wasn’t nearly as enamored by Chef’s achievement. He told me I was weird. We divorced, eventually.
Spelled another way, the word “beats” nods towards comfort in its relationship to music, writing, and performance. Books, movies, theater, symphonies—these are the emotional and intellectual triggers enriching my world, opening doorways into my own humanity and connecting it to that of others. For a person not raised in any church, spiritual nourishment is found among the arts and the communal experiences they offer. The arts and Epicurean pursuits help me to transcend the raw materialism of the surrounding culture. Cooking is not only caring, but an art reaching towards the divine, at least on good days, when I’m satisfying a hunger greater than the sum of my stomach’s gurgles.
At the end of the day one can own only that intangible mushy muscle that contains the private self, everything else—houses, investments, cars, even our bodies—can be taken away from us through disaster, criminality, and despotism. Our spirits or souls, if you like, belong to us. Beets and beats, beauty and divinity, ours to nourish.