I heard of “lean”—a production-management philosophy embodied by Henry Ford and developed lately by Toyota and others—when I worked on the fringe of the quality industry. I started to take it seriously when I realized that it was a purely minimalist approach to things, aiming to simplify as much as possible and eliminate the rest, the sort of approach I can get behind.

So lately I’ve been looking at my life from a lean viewpoint. Can that be composted, reused, or recycled? Do I really need a case of that stuff that I’ll have to find space for, even if it’s cheaper per unit? Is that plant gonna need more of my attention and energy than it’s worth to me? Can I carry that on a bicycle? Does this salsa enhance my well-being? Can I do all that in one trip? Is this really gonna make a difference?

For as long as I’ve been cooking, I’ve stuck whole cloves, sometimes in a pattern, into hams. That’s the way my family did it, and that’s the way I did it too. Then I realized that I’d never noticed much effect whatsoever from the cloves. I bought them and stuck them in the ham, sometimes in a pattern, and got virtually nothing in return. No value was added by the insertion of cloves, albeit in a pattern, into ham. Sticking cloves in a ham wasn’t lean. I suppose the cloves contributed to the wonderful smell of baking ham, but I think the wonderful smell of baking ham is mostly because of the ham.

Ham is lean from an eating perspective, but ham as a commodity is emphatically not lean, there being much simpler, cheaper, and less bloody ways to dine, none of which will even approximate a mouthful of juicy ham.

Cloves, of course, are wonderful in their own right and for many reasons, and so I was loath to eliminate the cloves altogether. I’m calling my solution lean because I put the cloves in the gravy, thereby gaining a definite bump in flavor and losing nothing of the lovely aroma. A lean move.

Turning out lights in unoccupied rooms is lean, too, though maybe not so much if you allow for the energy expended in going around turning off lights and muttering about it, unless of course turning off lights can be counted as necessary exercise, which is how I count it so the muttering is all to the good.

The lean champion is Nature, which reuses everything and wastes nothing. That’s my model. Of course, Nature also has eternity to work with, so I try to take that into account and give myself another break.

Quality professionals tend to be persnickety, so if any of you are gnashing your teeth at the cavalier way I toss around definitions and technical terms, getting over it is the lean move.
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Posted Friday, February 6th, 2009 under California, Chico, lean, quality, Toyota, Uncategorized.

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