I've been thinking about Cast Away

by Lorin Michel Saturday, June 1, 2013 1:30 AM

Chuck Noland is a systems analyst for Federal Express. He travels the world resolving any number of problems at shipping locations. Involved with a woman named Kelly, they’ve decided to finally get married but Chuck’s busy schedule keeps them from tying the knot. During a Christmas celebration, as they’re trying to coordinate their schedules, Chuck gets paged and needs to leave to resolve a problem with Malaysia. Kelly drives him to the airport, he kisses her goodbye, and he boards a FedEx flight. The plane gets caught in a violent storm and it crashes into the ocean. Chuck escapes, clinging to a life raft that eventually washes up onto an island. A deserted island.

For the next four years, he learns to fend for himself. How to make a fire from nothing but wood he can scavenge; how to fashion a spear that he can use to catch fish and crab. He learns how to open a coconut in order to get the milk out, and how to use the shells as canteens, catching rain water with leaves. He keeps a pocket watch, something that Kelly had given him for Christmas with her picture inside and he stares at it even though the watch no longer keeps time. Eventually he figures out how to escape the island, is rescued and has to try to assimilate back into life.

This is the essential plot for Cast Away, the 2000 film starring Tom Hanks. Kevin and I saw it when it first came out, and were very affected by it. It made us think about what it might be like.

Everyone always talks about what books they’d take to a desert island, what music they couldn’t live without. It’s a parlor game, something to amuse a group of people with, and I’ve played it myself a number of times. I think I may have written about it here a time or two. My desert island songs would be Rod Stewart’s Maggie May, Fleetwood Mac’s Landslide, Don McLean’s American Pie, just about anybody’s version of Fly Me to the Moon.  For books, I’d take The Poisonwood Bible, The Road, anything by Alice Hoffman, The Prince of Tides, the long version of The Stand, The Witching Hour, Great Expectations.

But what would I want to eat if I was on a desert island? I’d need a never-ending supply of pasta instead of coconuts, and potatoes. I’d need extra sharp cheddar cheese and lots of Roma tomatoes. I’d need red wine, and I’d find a way to keep it cool since the heat from the island could ruin it.

This week we’ve been eating lots of fruits and vegetables, and for some reason, I’ve been thinking about the movie Cast Away. As I’ve been preparing various things to eat, and wishing I could have a big plate of spaghetti and meatballs or penne with pesto, I’ve been seeing Tom Hanks standing on a rock with four years of hair growth on his head and on his face and a spear in his hand as he prepares to fish. Because all he has is the fish he can catch, the coconuts that fall from the trees. It’s very primal. As I’ve complained about my fruits and vegetables, I’ve also wondered how long it would take me to get used to eating just a few things for a very long time. I wonder how I would survive on a desert island and I’ve realized that it has nothing to do with music or books, but everything to do with eating naturally.

Tonight we’re making an Eggs Benedict salad. Poached eggs on a bed of mixed greens that have been tossed with mushrooms, tomatoes, onions and balsamic vinaigrette; topped with a gentle stream of hollandaise sauce. For dessert we’re slicing fresh pineapple and grilling it, with a rum glaze. Neither is particularly lo-cal, but it’s Friday and we’re cheating a bit.

Chuck Noland didn’t have an egg poacher or hollandaise sauce or wine or rum. All he had was time. Time to think, time to experiment, time to come up with new ways to cook what he had. I wonder what I would do in his situation. I wonder how I would do without a kitchen of spices, a refrigerator of cheese, a wine cellar; without music and books. I wonder if food would simply become something needed for survival instead of something I enjoy creating. I wonder if that survival instinct would top any boredom that would creep in after a week or two. I assume it would. The instinct to stay alive tops the need for hollandaise sauce.

These are the things that have been rattling around in my head this week as I contemplated my life on a desert island where my choices for food would be very limited. I think it’s time to celebrate the fact that I’m not on an island. This time we’re spending eating fruits and vegetables is something to enjoy because it has been in our power to choose every meal, to go to the grocery store and get fresh produce. I don’t have to stand on a rock with a spear, and with hair that hasn’t been cut or colored in four years.


Now that’s something to think about.   

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live out loud | The cooking of joy

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