Cynthia D. Bertelsen's Gherkins & Tomatoes

Seeking Food at the Crossroads of History

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When it comes to the kitchen, I’ve always been a seeker, a pilgrim in a more modern sense of the word, “A person travelling to a place of particular personal interest.”*

It all began on a diesel-perfumed street corner in Puebla, Mexico. I stood in the shadow of a broken streetlight, sunshine and sweaty bodies streaming around me. A woman dressed in a grey linen suit, looking for all world like a classy dame in a Sam Spade novel, walked out of the central market, stopped at the curb, and threw up, holding her string bag of meat and fruit away from her body. I recoiled as she dug into her purse and pulled out a lacy white handkerchief, wiping the watery vomit from her lips. She tossed the handkerchief on the ground and walked on, as if nothing had happened. The string bag swayed to-and-fro with every step she took.

I remember the wine-dark lipstick stain on the cloth. Like drying blood that had seeped from a deep, superating wound over several hours.

No one but me, it seemed, paid attention to the woman. But, for me, that moment in the market marked a turning point. Young as I was, I recognized a greater truth. Life revolved around food. Nourishment. Bodies. Period.

That flash of insight, as fleeting as the birds swooping down to nibble the piles of garbage outside that market, stayed with me, shrouded in a dark corner of my mind.  That’s why I still seek tales of food  buzzing through social media, cookbooks, literature, stories, gossip. And history, of course.

Every activity, even writing or painting, happens because of the innate drive to eat. Humans may write symphonies and send rocket ships to the moon, but without food, life doesn’t happen.

Hungry people wilt, like flowers suffering drought. They weaken and fade.

To deprive people of food is to take away not just physical life, but also emotional and intellectual life. This truth is one I fear that many currently in power forget in their rush to upend many programs, policies that ultimately foster the common good.

Food may be a great unifier, for those who believe in the Melting Pot analogy. But food can also be a great divider, worsened by accusations of theft and appropriation, crippled by self-righteous claims that a certain way of eating is the only way. Extremism of another sort.

The crossroads beckons. Which path to take, which path leads to understanding and harmony?

Pathway to ? (Photo credit: C. Bertelsen)

*Oxford Dictionaries.

For more on the effects of hunger on the human body, see some of my previous blog posts: Hunger, a Weapon of War; Hunger’s Fearsome Power: The Body and Soul of Vincent van Gogh; and Hunger, Starvation, Famine and the Sweep of Human History.

© 2017 C. Bertelsen

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