Are we in one?
Has the recent rash of food books, television, blogs and total mass marketing of food related issues and cooking create mass hysteria in an otherwise normal world?
Do we really need another food challenge reality TV show or pretentious book on how to make micro grilled cheese sandwiches?
I have thought of this often and written about it some. Our culture in America seems to be in a Sensual Deficit - we seem to lack the sensual actions left behind by past generations that create meaningful memories and traditions to live by and teach children and friends.
Soon after the death of someone very close to me, I found myself in a library in downtown Miami on an unexpectedly cold February afternoon. I was a bit lost on all levels - I hadn't seen my children in a year, lost a job cooking in a SHIT restaurant in the Gables and had a torrid love affair with far too many bottles of booze. I had been thinking for the past 6 months on ways to repair damage done to my family and friends and reconnecting with the time lost with my kids.
I started writing about the idea of cooking with family and sensual deficit earlier in the year, but with great grandeur and and unbelievable arrogance. My ex wife had come from a poor upbringing - I from middle class and proper European teaching and cooking lessons. The text was pure shit, as was my behavior, and it led me nowhere. Upon almost 8 years of reflection I remember where I found the lesson.
Back to the library in Miami...
I was stuck in back corner, reading my Nietzsche, looking as horrible and pathetic as possible to get whatever attention I wanted at the time, when an old black woman and her Grand daughter strolled by looking for a certain section. The Old woman said, "See, I can't read, and my Grandbaby is looking for some books my Momma left here some time ago. Back in the day, we had no place to keep our writings, and the women that worked at the library would spend their extra time typing them up and such. That way, we could keep our history and lives so our children could learn what we went through and what happened in our times." She explained to me that she was looking for recipe and farming books and I helped as best I could, but the Library was closing in a few minutes and we didn't have a chance to get them. I told them both I would be back the next day and would look for them again if they would like. The said yes and went on their way.
I took the train the next day first thing in the morning - no Cuban coffee, no pastry - just the beautiful smell of urine to wake me up on the mass transit train to the library. I was trying to convince myself the whole time that I wouldn't be upset if the two ladies didn't show - total bullshit. I wanted to know what the hell she was looking for - what brought her and her Grandbaby to downtown.
I sat in the same spot, reading the same book - time seemed so slow that day. Grandbaby ran past squealing with Grandmother in tow - she had scuffed the new shoes her Father had bought her only 2 days earlier - she let EVERYONE know how upset she was. Her Grandmother was shuffling after her when she spotted me putting my book in my bag. "Do you work here?" she asked, and I explained that I was the man she had met the day before, and would gladly help her find the writings she was looking for. She accepted quicker than I had anticipated and told Grandbaby to COME OVER RIGHT NOW. As Grandbaby was running towards us Grandmother sat down in a chair and pulled out her pocketbook, took out 2 quarters and looked Grandbaby straight in the eyes - something I hadn't seen her do yet. Grandbaby obviously knew this meant 'pay attention'. Never leaving Grandbaby's eyes, she slowly pulled 2 quarters out and said "Go down to the next level and get 2 lemonades for you and this nice man. Don't make no noise, don't make me come get you." Grandbaby nodded wide eyed and took the quarters while walking away.
As soon as she was out of sight Grandmother stood up, walked directly to a section in the back of the room and started to scan books, papers and writings on a never looked at shelf. Within minutes she had 2 texts, several papers and booklets and sat back down in the chair as Grandbaby was walking back with the lemonades. It was totally odd to me but I didn't question what she did.
We sat with our lemonade as Grandmother asked Grandbaby to read her recipes, texts and stories from the selections. Grandbaby and I scribbled what we could as fast as we could - Grandmother correcting many of the recipes. My head was spinning from the stories and recipes of wonderful soul and creole foods. Grandmother, in the course of 10 minutes, taught us that soul food came from the scraps of slave owners. The slaves were left the scraps of the owners houses - turnip tops, beet greens, pigs feet and jowels. They took the trash of the house and made it into the great traditions still feeding families across our country today. I helped as best I could, scribbling away when I had a chance. When she decided they were finished, Grandmother got her things together and told Grandbaby it was time to go.
As they were packing up, Grandbaby asked the question..."Grandmomma, how did you find this stuff so fast? Did this man help you find it?"
Grandmother answered swiftly... "Fredrick helped me find all of this for you, baby. Didn't you, Fredrick?"
Hahaha...She knew how to read. She saw my book the day before - the Nietzsche book.
She saw my discontent. She felt my Sensual deficit.
I said yes. I thanked them both as they left and realised what had taken place. This woman wanted to make a mission for her Grandbaby to learn the recipes and pieces of time that she felt. Why she felt a need to act like she was illiterate was beyond me, but it made a point for sure.
It was a wonderful afternoon, truly.