Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Spice of Life

Food is wonderfully nostalgic.

The tiniest whiff of gumbo file makes me think of my mom, and the smell of an omelet sizzling in the morning reminds me of dad. The aroma of turkey and stuffing? I’m immediately transported to Thanksgiving feasts throughout my life.But sometimes we hunger not for the familiar, but the exotic. Something different. Variety. It's fascinating to remember that much of our human history was motivated by food – the attempt to get enough, sure, but also over spices. Salt –and certain other spices-- helped preserve food, but they also made it taste better, more interesting, more intriguing.Many years ago a "sound man" told me about a film project he’d worked on with a rebel group in Central America, back in the 1980s when that region was rife with war. He believed in the cause and spoke about it passionately, but what I remember most was his description of eating the same thing, day in, day out, for every meal (Imagine the following told in a darling half-British, half-Spanish accent):

“We were hiding in the mountains for weeks at a time, eating nothing but black beans and rice -- no onions, no chile, nothing to spice it up." "It’ll keep you alive, but boy… It kills the spirit. One day I found a small patch of wild chives growing in the jungle." "I kept them to myself, hoarding them as though I were a miser with gold. I never thought of myself as a stingy man, but I cut up a tiny bit at each mealtime, hiding at the edge of camp from my companions, and used them to spice up the beans. Just the tiniest taste of something different, some variety, kept me from going insane. I don’t know how the others did it – they were much tougher than I.”Recently I asked the Indian man at the copy shop what he liked most about this country and he told me that Ethiopian and Thai food were his favorites, though he was developing a taste for Mexican as well.

Mind you, I didn’t ask him about food.

But this is common when speaking with immigrants. They often are amazed at the food in this country, not only its plenty, but its variety.

And this is what harvest festivals celebrated: the joy of a full belly, and the ability to eat lots of different kinds of things.

Enough really isn't enough. We’re animals. Eating is a base instinct. Compelling in a way only a primal urge can be. And as humans, we crave the variety to keep our palates interested, happy, content.

I feel a metaphor for life coming on...

10 comments:

Rachael Herron said...

Oooh, this post gives me a hunger for Thai, Indian, Mexican.... So much wonder to be found, right around the corner from home!

Mysti said...

There's some conjecture that the sheer quantity of food produced here (far more than 2,000 calories a day per person) is part of what's overstimulating our appetites. Sometimes I think the same thing applies to money, free time, square footage, celebrity...

Juliet Blackwell said...

Rachael -- mmm. Time for dinner???
Mysti, that's a fascinating theme. I find it interesting to think of how our culture interacts with our animal selves...and food seems to be the most basic element. We certainly are spoiled here! At the very least, we should remember to enjoy our plenty ;-)

L.G.C. Smith said...

The variety, high quality, and affordability of our food here are sumptuous by the standards most people who've ever lived have had. And many of the rest of the people alive now. It's not something I ever take for granted.

Those beans in the photo definitely have onions in them, though. I looked that closely. What's that say about me? :)

Juliet Blackwell said...

Ha! I noticed that about the beans pic, too! But I couldn't find any without obvious doctoring, which was his point, I guess ;-)

Lisa Hughey said...

I marvel at the different foods now available to us in the Bay Area (compared to when I was a kid growing up in the midwest-it's amazing!!)

Nicole Peeler said...

This post made me think of sex. Then food. Then sex. Then food. Then sex AND food. Well done. ;-)

Juliet Blackwell said...

Nicole, you crack me up! I didn't even TALK about sex...though I might have THOUGHT about it ;-)

Nicole Peeler said...

I totally knew you were thinking about it. ;-)

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