Part 2: Will the Circle Be Unbroken? Maybe. But are there times when it *should* be broken?

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)


An At-Home, Just Starting to Eat from the Garden, Dinner

& Potato Soup (loosey-goosey recipe follows)

In the Bread Basket:

Salad of the First Baby Lettuces, with Chilled Steamed Asparagus & Chive Blossoms,
Lemon-Parsley Vinaigrette

the first spear of asparagus in our garden, photograph by David Koff


Rhubarb-Apple Crisp
(rhubarb from the spring garden, & the last of fall's farm-stand Vermont mutsu apples)


If  you are unfamiliar with sorrel andf you do have garden space, run, don't walk, to your nearest vegetable garden-oriented nursery and buy some plants. You have a huge treat in store. First of all, sorrel is that rarity --- a perennial vegetable! It's a green that comes up every year, early every spring. If you keep cutting it back (that is, using it!) it'll come back again and again and again, it's determined, arrow-shaped leaves returning until frost.

Sorrel's flavor is distinctive among greens: bright and lemony-tart, it sparkles on the tongue. I nearly always make soup out of it, like this:  run out and pick a colander full, cutting the sorrel with a kitchen shears. Back in the kitchen, put some vegetable stock on to boil, and get a few diced potatoes cooking in the stock. As the potatoes cook, rinse the sorrel, trim off the stems, and chop the leaves. When the potatoes are tender, add the chopped leaves and pop a cover on it. Let cook 2 or 3 minutes, or until the sorrel has wilted and (unfortunately) turned from a nice vibrant exuberant green to a deep army green. Turn off the heat, stick an immersion blender in the pot, and whir until chunky-smooth; a soupy puree with the occasional piece of potato. Salt, freshly cracked pepper, and a lick of heavy cream (just a bit) if you have it. You could just milk or unflavored soy milk if you like, just not too much and don't cook it further after you've add the milk; the tartness of the leaves could curdle it. And there you are.

As to that gorgeous asparagus... here is what Marcel Proust, in Swanns Way, had to say about this sensual vegetable:

My greatest pleasure was asparagus, bathed in ultramarine and pink and whose spears, delicately brushed in mauve and azure, fade imperceptibly to the base of the stalk --- still soiled with the earth of their bed --- through iridescences not on this world. It seemed to me these celestial nuances betrayed the delicious creatures that had amused themselves by becoming vegetables...


3 Responses to “Part 2: Will the Circle Be Unbroken? Maybe. But are there times when it *should* be broken?”

  1. Mary Coyne 03. Jun, 2011 at 6:00 pm #

    That is so nice. I love that picture of the asparagus pushing its way up into the daylight.

    first asparagus. Last of the apples. The wheel turns.

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    my web blog … Lidia

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