Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Women and Food

Mike found this beaut of a “cookbook” during one of our trips to the dump. Copyright 1948. There is a photo of the back cover at the end of this post which explains a lot – don't cheat! No scrolling down! It's a little gem of a surprise waiting for you.

Been thinking a lot about food lately. What with my hot new one-stop tour almost ready to roll.

Been trying to write about food. Hypoglycemia and gluten-free don't ride smoothly into the stanzas of my poetry, though they are the biggest things on my plate (for future reference, puns always intended) at the moment. But I also realized how many of my poems leak food even when I don't intend it. Like the one about my grandmother. The grandmother I never met. It's an imagined scene, and intuitively, I set her among food, feeding people, among edible metaphors.

The poem begins:

Anna was in the kitchen
The windows were fogged,
pasta on the stove,
dough rolled thin on the counter,
more than enough.

A pickle crock figures prominently in the scene, a lunch pail. There is this bit:

after so many years, he, 
close to deaf, she, having to shout 
her love to him: Your shirts are pressed!
And the perfume smelling like cooking oil...

And on and on. Women and food. I have several unfinished pieces involving food that are neither here nor there in terms of prose or poetry. Like this snippet:

The cans of green beans in dubious liquid stocked my mother's cabinets like bomb shelter provisions. (Ed: To this day the woman prefers CANNED asparagus over the fresh version. Mom, I know you are reading this and let me announce to the internet that you are WEIRD, not to mention nutritionally challenged.) Food was what could be quickly made and quickly consumed off paper plates or flimsy silver trays where the courses were compartmentalized – even if the corn tended to trip here and there into its neighbor frame: the dark brown backdrop of the square of chocolate cake sitting still as a 70's game show prize.

You might imagine my shock then, when in the middle of college (after living on a diet of pizza, beer, local vodka, and Entenmann's banana chocolate crumb cake) I headed off to Mexico, in an "exchange" program for which there was no Mexican student with poor eating habits coming north to balance the transaction.

There, people picked lemons from their backyards; offered mangoes from branch to blender. It was my first lesson in eating from the earth. Mud pies no longer felt quite like simple child's play, but more like intuitive renderings of a life source.

Here, in California, years later, the roots of my dinner plate still astound. My friend offers me pears from her tree of which she complains, "It won't stop!"

And, here, in California, today, driving the highway, dodging merging flatbed trucks strapped with strawberries, I eye with suspicion, venom even, the new homes' serpentine line as it advances behind brown and green raised beds of seedling vegetables. Already it sits on land that used to reap food.

Food. Whole journals are dedicated to the stuff. And just when you thought it didn't matter anymore, it defines and redefines your identity for goodness sake...

Soul Food

A cluster of women
in traditional Korean dress
leaves the Mexican taquería
and crosses the street in front of the Ford pickup.
From high, bowed waists each skirt releases
its own soft color: mint, peach, custard, a velvety blue.
Their rich black hair is cut bluntly,
all just below the jaw line.
The wind billows their exaggerated skirts,
so that they look like bells or gumdrops
gliding along on the breeze.
I wonder where they came from
to appear here in the downtown crosswalk,
in the bustle of this
Saturday morning.
Perhaps the wedding food
left that much to be desired,
and they headed – in full regalia –
for the safety of a burrito and chips.

I picture those skirts
bunched into a vinyl booth
while a ranchera plays over the speakers.
I imagine them laughing together quietly,
as the Mexican hot chocolate arrives,
as they lick salsa from their fingers.


bobbie said...

I'm happy you have found your "perfect" diet, darling. Please remember that I learned to eat from MY mother, and honestly, I have learned more about truly good nutrition in the years since. But old habits die hard.
It's also just possible that your "perfect" isn't quite so perfect either.
But food is indeed central to most cultures. I love that you thought of your grandmother Anna in relation to it. You never shared that one with me.

Dianne said...

I like frozen asparagus
I will admit that the farmer's market scares me and I always avert my eyes until I get to the baked goods section

Kitty said...

who said anything about "perfect?" you wanna take this outside, lady?

dianne, face your fears! the farmers await you!

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