Existentialism, Doorstops, and Breakfast Burritos

In the current edition of BigLittleMeals, Ann is dealing with what I will call the existential meaning of color.  So I think it’s appropriate in Andy’s Corner to bring up one of my own existential concerns, which has to do with our many friends from over the years who have left the kitchen and prefer to bring in, go out, or use pre-prepared meals.  Even some of those who have visited our blog and have seen our enticing recipes just shrug their shoulders and say that it is too much of a pain to cook or that our recipes are too complicated.  They tell us that time in the kitchen takes time away from other things they would rather be doing. 


19th century Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard.  I wonder if he spent much time in the kitchen.

Indeed, one of our stated goals in Big Little Meals is to encourage folks to get back into the kitchen.   Although we suggest some good reasons to do this, the nagging question remains – Does cooking one’s own meals have existential meaning?

One reason this is a nagging question is that I am not entirely sure what existential means.  So I did some on-line research – is there any other way to do research any more?  I rediscovered that the term originated with the famous 19th century Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, something I should have remembered from my undergrad philosophy days.  I was hoping that Soren would have something to say about the existential meaning of food and cooking.  You can imagine how very excited I was to come across this quote:

“Of all ridiculous things the most ridiculous seems to me, to be busy — to be a man who is brisk about his food and his work”  (Emphasis added; see more about this quote here).

Despite the politically incorrect, gender-biased prose, this comment resonated with me.  I definitely can appreciate the ridiculousness of being “brisk” about food, work, or for that matter, almost anything else.  In fact, I like to think of myself as one who excels at plodding along. I’m not sure what this has to do with existentialism, but I am going to run with it –  or better yet, plod with it.

CHS Woodshop from yearbook

This is from my 1961 high school year book.  Evidently, these brisk students had already completed their doorstops and moved on to more advanced projects.

An early example of being brisk-challenged, i.e., a plodder, was my first foray into wood working in my high school wood shop class.  It was held in an industrial-like room with a variety of electric saws, lathes, and other machines that baffled and somewhat frightened me. 

simple door stop

My labor of love.

Our first assignment was to construct a doorstop, which required some pretty simple and basic wood working skills.  We could advance to the scary looking table saws and lathes only after this beginning project was approved.  I was careful and meticulously precise, far from being “brisk.” Maybe too much so.  While I was still laboring to complete this simple project other students were moving on to constructing things like mahogany linen chests and dining room tables for their moms.  By the time my doorstop was approved the semester was over.  I often wonder what became of that doorstop; I had become quite emotionally attached to it.

My woodworking skills have not advanced much with adulthood.  A few years ago I took up birdhouse construction and spent the better part of the year building birdhouses out of old cedar fence boards.  I probably made about 10 altogether.  I liked to think that I was providing much needed affordable housing stock for low income birds. 

fancy birdhouse

Birdhouse available at the local farmers market.

I have to say that despite my pleasure in building these structures, it could be somewhat demoralizing to go to the local farmers market and see some dude with a table piled full of three story birdhouses with shingled roofs and redwood decks –  for $25 each! 

What does this all have to do with the importance of getting folks back into the kitchen?  For me, cooking isn’t much different than working with wood.  I enjoy it as long as I am not expected to be “brisk.”  

Take my humble breakfast burritos as an example.  They bring to mind my doorstop (I am referring to how I make burritos, not how they taste). Even though I probably have made a hundred of these same burritos over the past several years, I continue to enjoy the minutia of the preparation. Just seeing the finely diced zucchini – skin side only – and a carefully seeded and diced jalapeño pepper gleaming on the cutting board next to a perfect pile of grated cheddar and queso fresco cheese brings me great joy.  The burrito itself or its consumption is almost incidental to this existential experience of creation (whatever the hell that means). 

In the end, my hope is that I may nudge others to occasionally abandon their brisk impulses by engaging in the simple pleasures of plodding along in the kitchen.  

breakfast burrito2

My humble existential breakfast burrito

Post Script: after I had finished writing this episode Ann suggested I read a NY Times editorial by Tim Wu, “In Praise of Mediocrity.”  I highly recommend it.  Although not specifically about getting back to the kitchen, Wu nails much of what I have been awkwardly trying to express – sort of like comparing my birdhouses to those of the guy at the farmers market.


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