As I was sitting in ZenCha today sipping a cup of High Street Oolong, I was reminded of the first time, in a tea house, that the proprietor had advised me to re-steep the green tea leaves. I was a little surprised at this advice, since I was concerned that it might become overextracted and bitter… or simply lose its flavor. But I followed his advice, off and on, and the results weren’t bad. To be honest, I never really thought much about it.
Then, one day when I’d gotten to know him a bit better, it occurred to me that his advice had been uncharacteristically forthright for such a quiet person, and I started to wonder whether there might not have been something more behind it than I had realized. So when I overheard him advising another customer to do the same thing, I asked, “Why do you advise people to re-steep their tea?”
His answer was as simple as it was startling: “It honors the labor of the farmer.”
I’ve re-steeped my tea ever since.
Sitting there today, I found myself wondering how different our culinary traditions would be if we were less conditioned by food as a product and more attuned, at a fundamental level, with the idea of honoring the labor of farmers in everything we do. The most obvious implication would be less waste—fewer vegetable scraps thrown out, more creativity in using “extra” parts of animals. But we’d also have more food, more stocks made from those scraps and parts, and perhaps a revival of some of the kinds of food that were popular back when our ancestors ate these foods more from necessity than from choice… perhaps some of them could even serve as inspiration for chefs.