Sunday, February 27, 2011
FOOD, ART & SPIRIT
February 20, 2011
READING: “The Attack of the Squash People” by Marge Piercy
And thus the people every year
in the valley of humid July
did sacrifice themselves
to the long green phallic god
and eat and eat and eat.
They're coming, they're on us,
the long striped gourds, the silky
babies, the hairy adolescents,
the lumpy vast adults
like the trunks of green elephants.
Recite fifty zucchini recipes!
Zucchini tempura; creamed soup;
sauté with olive oil and cumin,
tomatoes, onion; frittata;
casserole of lamb; baked
topped with cheese; marinated;
stuffed; stewed; driven
through the heart like a stake.
Get rid of old friends: they too
have gardens and full trunks.
Look for newcomers: befriend
them in the post office, unload
on them and run. Stop tourists
in the street. Take truckloads
to Boston. Give to your Red Cross.
Beg on the highway: please
take my zucchini, I have a crippled
mother at home with heartburn.
Sneak out before dawn to drop
them in other people's gardens,
in baby buggies at churchdoors.
Shot, smuggling zucchini into
mailboxes, a federal offense.
With a suave reptilian glitter
you bask among your raspy
fronds sudden and huge as
alligators. You give and give
too much, like summer days
limp with heat, thunderstorms
bursting their bags on our heads,
as we salt and freeze and pickle
for the too little to come.
READING: (from lecture)
Marjorie has read Harry Potter seven times. The books I read more than once, voluntarily, included Heidi by Joanna Spyri. If someone were to ask me, twenty, thirty, forty years later, what Heidi was about, I would say: mountains, goats, a grandfather and a girl, a loft window and a corner cupboard that held fresh baked bread, warm goats’ milk, and homemade cheese and butter. The imagined aroma, texture and flavor of these simple foods have been solidly ensconced in my memory. To me, they represent the warm, nurturing, health-inducing, and pleasure-sharing relationship between the Grandfather and Heidi, a delightful memory to a young girl whose own widowed father, although distant and moody, expressed his affection with home-cooked soups, beaten biscuits, fresh-picked vegetables, and apple dumplings on very special occasions.
Revisiting Heidi after many decades, the hunks of fresh bread, the golden cheese toasted over an open fire on the end of a fork, and the bowls full of fresh goats’ milk were a trigger for the same sensations of childhood safety and nurturance they had engendered long ago. Food, unlike many other fictional elements, is at once universal and decidedly particular. Its description employs all of the senses, from the visual and tactile to scent, taste and even sound. It is something we humans share, covet, work for, long for, take for granted, use and abuse, and die without. Wars are fought over and civilizations built around access to and production of food.
Food is a source of pleasure. Good literature feeds us with imagery and sensory detail. Loving food, like enjoying other sensual pleasures, was frowned upon by our repressive forbears. The Protestant ethic, from which most of us take our ascetcism, advocates hard work and self-control. Catholicism has Lent and fasting; Judaism severe dietary restrictions. Religions are the source of this repression. Pleasure is the enemy of piety. Food and sex are inextricably interwoven.
Mark Morrison-Reed, one of our best known UU ministers and author of Black Pioneers in a White Denomination, spoke of this Puritan ethic at our Institute last week. A central theme was the future of Unitarian Universalism. We don’t believe our own first principle, he said, speaking on an evening panel. We don’t really believe in our own inherent worth and dignity. We push ourselves too hard, we never give ourselves a break, and we are so tied to perfectionism that we fail to just be and to acknowledge our own worth, inherent, without having to always prove something.
His words were simple, but true. His point was that we cannot expect to be compassionate and helpful to the world, and hence to grow and live into our vision of Standing On the Side of Love unless we can love and accept ourselves, just as we are, and be loving to each other within our congregations. He is right.
Isabel Allende opens her book Aphrodite with these words:
I repent of my diets, the delicious dishes rejected out of vanity, as much as I lament the opportunities for making love that I let go by because of pressing tasks or puritanical virtue. Walking through the gardens of memory, I discover that my recollections are associated with the senses.
As with the attack of the squash people, there is in all things, even religion, the danger of too much, of over-indulging. We would be wise to learn what is known as the “French paradox,” whereby, in spite of drinking more and eating more butter and meat than most of us, they do not suffer from heart attacks or raised cholesterol at nearly the same rate. Allende suggests this is due in part to the way they eat: the French eat sitting down, with calm, enjoying each mouthful… one key word defines the French paradox: moderation.
Moderation is very different than deprivation. Think of what we call “fast food.” The very term is an oxymoron. And yet, eating such food is the equivalent of fasting, for it has no history, no character, no soul. It nourishes neither body nor spirit. Real food ties us to the earth, to community, and to our history. As Carlo Petrini, the founder of the Slow Food movement, says, “taste is like an umbilical cord. We all return to our grandmothers, no matter how many detours we take along the way.”
The world of greed and consumerism which dominates so much of life today would have us lose our memory, our ability to discern with our senses, and our self-worth.
And this brings us back to the first of our principles. Say it with me: The inherent worth and dignity of every person. Including me. When we truly believe it for ourselves we will be practicing what we preach.