We all reside in food’s largest circle, life and death.
But what we eat (and why, and how) also contains countless smaller circles of identity.
What we eat is one way we tell ourselves and others, the story of who we are: our nationality (or that of our grandparents); our race, class, belief systems, religion.
We are this; we are not that. We put this into our mouths; we would never put that into our mouths.
Like anything we know absolutely, our circle, revealed intimately in what we eat, can be cozy, comfortable, loving, secure… and xenophobic. The idea of living outside its borders may be repugnant or incomprehensible.
The ribs, or loins, of pigs, yes; but never their intestines, feet, or tails. The shoulders and flanks of cows, maybe if slaughtered in a certain ritual manner; maybe the cows’ livers, or tongues, but never their hearts or lungs, and as for pigs — never any part of a pig. A pig, cow, or sheep, yes; but never a dog, or a grasshopper. The milk of a female cow, the egg of a hen, but never the flesh of either. Cakes of soybeans that have been deliberately made moldy (tempeh), but never any part of any animal. Pigs, cows, chickens, sheep, yes… but never a moldy soybean.
Thus we define ourselves. Texan. Muslim, Jew. Poor, rich. Asian, Western. Vegetarian, vegan. On and on, bite by bite.
Like anything we know absolutely, our circle, revealed intimately in what we eat, can be a prison, from which we long to escape. Circles can shame or confine those within them, or inflate their residents with o’er-weening pride and smugness.
Or — if strong and porous — circles can be part of that greatest of human goods, a secure home, from which we can move out from and return to, engaging thoughtfully and lovingly with the world.
For, as the poet Pablo Neruda wrote, “Everything alive has its two sides.”
But wait. What about those outside a particular circle?
Perhaps they are outsiders by choice and self-definition (we are Muslim, not Jewish or Christian); perhaps outsiders by circumstance (we are impoverished, or forced by war from our farms and way of life; we can no longer afford to eat as you, thoughtless as we once were, do now, inside your circle).
How do outsiders view our circle? Do they watch us, feasting at our enclosed tables, with hunger, longing, curiosity, mystification, disgust, scorn or hatred?
In a globalized world where all airports and malls look more or less alike, and places, cuisines, and people are in danger of losing their distinct individuality, isn’t a strong sense of identity good?
In a human world in which war — essentially over differences, over the rightness of our circle as opposed to the despicablity of theirs — has always played a part, at a time when our shared globe itself, the largest possible circle, could be annihilated with a keystroke, isn’t a strong sense of identity dangerous?
Is there a way in which such circles could be both unbroken and wholly permeable? Is there a table large enough to accommodate us all?
As always, food, looked at closely, leads us to the largest questions of human life.
In Part 3 of Will the Circle Be Unbroken, we’ll look more at how we might create permeable circles.
Dinner with Dragonwagon: random meals from a life
Sometimes I do a "status update" on Facebook that's just what I made for dinner. My FB companeros almost always ask me about it: where to find ingredients, or a recipe. Or, they say it's making them hungry... Or, they tell me about something similar that they make, or mention when and where they had it... This box, a P.S. to each post, is a semi-formalized version of same, with links and sometimes a few cooking notes at the bottom. Plus, you'll get to drop in on the dear people I'm eating with, and sit at many tables in many places with us.
|Date:||June 1, 2011|
|Place:||Crescent and David's home, Westminster West, Vermont|
|At the table with:||
David Koff, 71 (filmmaker, writer, Crescent's partner & fellow gardener)
Crescent Dragonwagon, 58 (writer, teacher, David's partner & fellow-gardener)