Why I Write about Food

January 16, 2010

     “Given the situation in Haiti,” someone wrote me yesterday, “maybe you should stop writing about all the great food you’re eating.”  I’ve been thinking about that, a lot.  And it strikes me that it’s a spurious argument, as dubious as the one that Flanagan woman is using to excoriate Alice for her Edible Schoolyards. 

The Flanagan argument is absurd on so many levels it’s hard to even know where to begin.  But following her logic no one would ever teach children anything but the 3 r’s; there would be no art, no music, no physical education. Her idea, that teaching children how to grow food (and in the process allowing them to pick up good eating habits), deprives children of their right to learn literature, mathematics and philosophy is nonsense; learning is not an either/or proposition. It also ignores the reason that Alice decided to set the schools up in the first place: We know that eating is learned behavior, and that allowing young people to experience the joy of fresh produce can change their lives forever. Flanagan likens working in the garden to stoop labor, which is a bit like comparing cooking dinner for your family to working at a fast food stand.  Her article denigrates everyone who works with his hands.  And although she begins by saying that no Latino would want his child working in a garden, she has the audacity to think she knows what people she has never spoken to are thinking.  At the very least, she might have asked.

The man who wants me to stop writing about food until the Haiti crisis is over (and will it ever be over?) is, of course, on much more solid ground. But it reminds me a bit of my grandparents, who stopped celebrating everything when their youngest daughter died. If she couldn’t be there to join in the fun, there would be no more fun. That’s ridiculous. And the opposite of life-affirming.

We all have a moral obligation to do whatever we can to help the Haitians during this terrible time. But talking about it doesn’t help; we need to take concrete action. And once again, it’s not an either/or situation. There will always be trouble – war, famine, earthquake, illness – somewhere in the world.  We should not close our eyes or our minds to them. We should help in whatever ways we can. But in times of trouble- especially in times of trouble –  it is important to celebrate life. We need to remind ourselves – and others – that it is good to be alive.  If only as a promise that better times are coming. 

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  • “But in times of trouble – especially in times of trouble – it is important to celebrate life.”
    I couldn’t agree more. I have a friend who is a doctor who has been helping in Haiti. She has been back in the States for a month or so, and celebrating Thanksgiving was very, very hard for her in light of the cholera epidemic. I admire her courage and hard work in Haiti, and support what she has been doing there as best I can.
    But I think we must, we MUST look for the joy in life where we can. There is too much sorrow out there that seems like it’s waiting to suck us down if we give it half a chance. Sometimes celebration needs to be defiant. After all, in the midst of death, we are in life.

  • Vicki Gibson says:

    That’s probably why spring comes after winter. The universe is smart that way.