Protein Of The Soul

Francisco Goya’s still-life, A Butcher’s Counter.  A sheep’s head and sides of mutton.  Painted between 1810 and 1812.  Painted during the ano del hambre in Madrid when thousands starved to death.  This was the time of Napoleon’s invasion, time of Desastres de la Guerra.


In our featured painting, protein is the key molecule, movement.  In On Food and Cooking, Harold McGee writes,

Of all the major food molecules, proteins are the most challenging and mercurial.  The others, water and fats and carbohydrates, are pretty stable and staid.  But expose proteins to a little heat, or acid, or salt, or air, and their behavior changes drastically.  This changeability reflects their biological mission.  Carbohydrates and fats are mainly passive forms of stored energy, or structural materials.  But proteins are the active machinery of life.  They assemble all the molecules that make a cell, themselves included, and tear them down as well; they move molecules from one place in the cell to another; in the form of muscle fibers, they move whole animals.  They’re at the heart of all organic activity, growth, and movement.  So it’s the nature of proteins to be active and sensitive.  When we cook foods that contain them, we take advantage of their dynamic nature to make new structures and consistencies. (805-806)


Here is wonderful protein in the shape of grilled octopus from Coltivare. Movement is the key with proteins.  “The machinery of life” as McGee names it, but the metaphor falls short, because proteins assemble and tear down, move on the molecular level and also in the world where we recognize and shape.  This is far more than a machine, as Leon Kass writes in The Hungry Soul,

All of the organism’s constituent material–that is, the proteins, carbohydrates, lipids and nucleic acids and complexes formed from these–are in constant flux, including also the materials that carry out these metabolic transformations. (28)

We are far more than machines, the very nature of our movement constantly transforms us on every level.  And movement within Aristotle’s conception of the soul in De Anima, supplies the needed definition for what makes us human.  In reviewing theories of the soul, Aristotle finds

A feature of all these theories is the supposition that the production of movement is the most characteristic feature of the soul and that while it is through the soul that all other things are moved the soul’s movement is produced by itself.  And this is based on our seeing nothing move that is not itself moved.  (133)


That which makes us moves within us, and who we are moves the world in us and around.  To be conscious of what we are on a molecular level and also on the level of the shape of a human being, speaks to our imagination and creativity.  In his journal on a year working in Noma, Rene Redzipi addresses creativity, and in his words one reads and feels movement, soul.

I believe what we’re cooking here and now at Noma is ultimately something that comes from within; reverberations from long ago, rather than a cerebral construction.  Looking back at the last six months, the best moments have happened when something in the present connects with stories from the past. “What is creativity?”  I’ve been asking myself while writing this journal.  I’m not sure, but tonight I will answer it like this: creativity is the ability to store the special moments, big or small, that occur throughout your life, then being able to see how they connect to the moment you’re in.  When past and present merge, something new happens.  (119)




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