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How to Cook Your Life (DVD Review)

27 Apr, 2008 By: Holly J. Wagner

Street 5/6/08
Box Office $0.08 million
$27.98 DVD
Rated ‘PG-13' for brief strong language.

Only in a Zen program would the first quarter of a film be devoted to bread. But it's not just about bread. It's about learning to find the joy in life's small, seemingly ordinary acts.

This trail of breadcrumbs is intended to lead to awareness and happiness, and Zen priest and chef Edward Espe Brown, as the tenzo (chief cook), is our guide.

We meet him teaching a group of people to make bread at Tassajara, a Buddhist sanctuary in Ventana, Calif. But How to Cook Your Life is about much more than just food: It's about transformation and how a simple act can transform the one performing it. As one of the residents tells us, “You don't just cook the food, the food cooks you.”

This cooking is an introspective journey. Food and cooking tools are sustenance, but also the metaphors that illustrate ideas like giving up the need to control, exploring positive and negative emotions, and especially confronting emotions such as anger, frustration and disappointment.

The film asks us to consider our affluence as a society, and whether we have too much (the Zen answer is that if you throw away anything useful, you do). Many Americans would be appalled at the dumpster-harvesting movement explored in one segment, but it's definitely another way to look at a society driven by consumerism and marketing, and how we allow those things to distract us.

It also bridges nicely to a consideration of what constitutes contaminated food. Are people who find fresh — if a little tired — vegetables in the trash consuming more contaminants than people who live on fast food and preservative-laden packaged goods?How to Cook Your Life is calm and humorous, but also very emotional and, for those who let it in, instructive. The camera work is beautiful: Shots that in other movies might be just pictures of food are portraits of natural splendor here.

This film is for anyone who will take the time to watch it; the lessons are there for anyone who wants to learn them.

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