I’ll admit— if Nicolas Cage cooked a meal for me, I’d be a little weirded out, but I’d still be flattered. Yet that’s exactly what he does in Michael Sarnoski’s debut film “Pig.” The premise is refreshingly odd. Reclusive truffle-hunter Rob Feld (Cage, “Willy’s Wonderland”) has his beloved truffle-hunting pig stolen, and he embarks on a journey into his past life to get it back. The film is an inversion of the classic revenge story: Think “John Wick,” but instead of the protagonist brutally murdering his animal-abusing enemies, he shows them empathy and compassion through the act of cooking. In this film about grief and loss, food takes center stage.
Human emotion and food are inextricable from one another in “Pig.” Prior to retreating into the Oregon wilderness, Feld was a world-renowned chef, revered for his ability to cook soul-piercing meals. However, after the death of his wife, Feld became a recluse. Nevertheless, food remains his love language, a language made more potent by the tragedies he’s suffered. And what language is more savory than a lovingly prepared meal?
The act of cooking for another human being is inherently selfless, and there’s a certain vulnerability that comes with cooking: You’re offering up your own labor to be enjoyed, or critiqued, by others. There’s always that tortuous moment when you’re waiting with bated breath as your diner takes their first bite. Do you like it? Is it okay? Do you want more? Does it need more seasoning? These are questions you need the answers to, but don’t dare to ask.
Cooking is more than an act of vulnerability, though; it’s an undertaking steeped in empathy. How can you prepare a meal without taking into consideration the needs of the person you’re serving? How much avocado should I use? Should I poach or scramble these eggs? Is this too much oregano? Queries with no purpose beyond the enjoyment of the guest.
Throughout “Pig,” Feld capitalizes on food’s capacity to foster human connection, and he uses his past as a chef to tease out others’ dearest emotions. When the wealthy businessman Darius (Adam Arkin, “Sons of Anarchy”), who orchestrated the theft of Feld’s pig, refuses to release it, Feld doesn’t retaliate. Instead, he prepares a meal he had served Darius and his now-comatose wife years earlier. Previously, the meal (pigeon with foraged wild mushrooms and huckleberries, for those wondering) had a profound impact on Darius, essentially revitalizing his marriage. Now, Feld has cooked it again and sits down with Darius to enjoy it. You know that scene in “Ratatouille” where Remy’s dish launches the antagonistic food critic into a series of fond childhood flashbacks? This was basically that scene, with food being the warmth that thaws the frozen heart.
Comparisons to “Ratatouille” aside, this scene in “Pig” prods at a fundamental truth: Sharing a meal with another person is a deeply intimate event. Once you finally take your place at the table beside those you’ve served, there’s a shared experience, the millions of tastebuds of each person lighting up in unison.
I have this habit of being acutely aware of the finite amount of time I have with those I love. Every so often, I’ll get this feeling, almost like a premonition: “Good god, I’m going to miss this so much.” As a result, I tend to mourn the absence of these “good times” before they’ve actually passed. It heightens my appreciation for the present moment: I clutch these memories-to-be more tightly, love those around me more deeply and hold them closer to my heart. This is how I’ve come to feel about the nightly dinners my housemates and I have. Each night of the week, we take turns cooking meals for the rest of the house. We pair up, two of us cooking on any given night, with each of us cooking at least twice a week. And, each night, those of us who are home sit down at the dinner table and enjoy the meal together.
It’s barely been a month, and I’m already enamored. There’s something so special about these meals: the gentle silences, the clattering of silverware against plates, the small talk, the large talk. Sometimes I look up into the faces of my housemates and think, “God, I’ll miss this,” and I have to make sure to savor every bite I take. I look forward to the year’s worth of mealtimes to come, but I am also saddened by the prospect of this ritual coming to an end. I’m still getting to know these four new people, but every simmering pot of soup, every turkey taco, every stir-fry brings me a bit closer to each of them.
As someone who tends to love people very deeply, I’m a bit surprised that I’ve never realized how endearing a shared mealtime can be. Recently, however, the power of the culinary arts has become more clear to me, and “Pig” has only brought this more into focus. Cooking is an act of selfless service, a means of listening to your diner’s wants and needs. To prepare a meal is to speak a love language we all know, whether we’re a chef-turned-hermit or a mere college student.
Daily Arts Writer Tate LaFrenier can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.