Who are you chef, habitué or both? Whose life is richer? Know Thyself!

The “practical person,” as this word is often used, is one who recognizes only material needs, who realizes that people must have food for the body, but is oblivious of the necessity of providing food for the mind.

Bertrand RussellThe Value of Philosophy (a.k.a. Filosophy)

One of the 20th century’s great philosophers, Bertrand Russell, argued in his popular, The Value of Philosophy, that philosophy is primarily food for the mind. Additionally, in the above quote, Russell is concerned with the “practical person,” who “realizes that people must have food for the body.” As Russell will go on to make clear, food for the body is but a first step toward a rich, fulfilled life. Thus, food used first to simply sustain the body has extrinsic value. Extrinsic value is the value that is independent of an object or an activity itself. Analogously, getting a root canal is typically not desired for itself but for the dental health, the extrinsic value, it will bring. Similarly, a toilet plunger tends not to have value in itself but for what it can accomplish.

If an activity or thing has value in itself, it is said to have intrinsic value. Hence, people go to athletic events, watch movies, listen to music, hang out with family because these activities have value intrinsically, in themselves. Back in the day, when I wrote screenplays, I would watch movies to study dramatic structure, dialogue, storytelling etc. Back then, watching films had for me primarily extrinsic value, not unlike a music producer who attends a concert to decide whether she wants to sign a particular act to a contract. She may not even like the music of the artist she is observing.  Fascinatingly, some activities may have both intrinsic and extrinsic value. I used to encourage my students to find both intrinsic and extrinsic value in their educational experience as there was a tendency to think of education as of extrinsic value only. If you can find both intrinsic and extrinsic value in an activity or object, your life is richer than the person who can find only one value.

Food and food preparation have the potential to have both intrinsic and extrinsic value. Much of my youthful eating focused upon the extrinsic value of food. In college, coffee was consumed for the caffeine, wine for intoxication and solid food to alleviate hunger. Wine was not savored, coffee not relished, food was consumed though, at the time, ice cream was cherished.  As a habitué (frequent visitor) in the kitchen, for me preparing meals was a hassle. I found no intrinsic value in the burden of food prep. As a child, I never cooked. The kitchen was considered women’s work. With food prep having only extrinsic value for me, the resulting food available was primarily of extrinsic value. A somewhat impoverished life I was leading but then I met my future wife.

When first we met, my wife, Dulcie, prepared an omelet one morning that woke me from my food slumber. I still retain a gustatory memory of that breakfast that she also delighted in preparing. She was changing my existential gustatory orientation. Over our decades together, she has grown profoundly in her culinary skills. Now every meal, from prep to consuming, brings with it an abundance, or as she says, A-bun-DANCE, of intrinsic and extrinsic value. While I remain primarily a kitchen habitué, I am trying to move more into the joy of prepping. It seems that when it comes to Food, Dulcie’s life is richer than mine as she experiences so much more intrinsic value in prepping but, I suspect, a comparable intrinsic and extrinsic value in eating. I hope your life of food is rich in both intrinsic and extrinsic value. Next time: Moving from habitué to chef.