The plums come from the tree in back of the house here. They were green when we arrived and now, on our last day, they are ripe and ready to eat. I am sorry that we won’t be here to enjoy them further; the sight of them makes me want to dig through old cookbooks in search of recipes for plum preserves, tarts, and succulent meat dishes. Rarely does such a quantity of fresh fruit fall into my hands, and these are all the more tantalizing because I cannot use them. They must be left here, perfect in their ripeness, while we leave and begin our lives again elsewhere.
There have been reports in the news for some months now of the global food crisis, and corresponding stories of individual Americans taking matters into their own hands, plantingneo-Victory gardens to cut their grocery costs, just as others trade cars for bikes as fuel costs also rise. I have never lived in a house with fruit trees before, just as I have never kept a garden and will likely never have one in New York City. So I am amazed and grateful to have watched this tree come to fruition, to feel its juice on my tongue, and to be reminded of the larger cycles that surround us.
One summer, during college, I spent weekends on a small farm near Minneapolis. My parents had bought a share of the farm’s vegetables through a community-supported agriculture (CSA) program, and as a requirement of membership we were asked to help out on the farm on occasion. I went back again and again after harvest day, and cajoled the small farm team to let me help them with whatever they were doing. One woman there was a chef at Lucia’s Restaurant who told me that she was working on the farm for a season in order to understand more about where food came from. This seemed like a novel idea to me at the time, and it struck my fancy that the act of eating might be linked to agriculture and land use and soil types and plant varietals, not just to fat and calories and oh-do-I-look-better-now-than-before concerns. I find it significant that I happened to visit this farm in the throes of an eating disorder, and wonder if these visits had anything to do with the new direction that food has come to have in my life since then. Looking back, I see that as my eating disorder waned, my interest in the broader aspects of food -- its origin, history, purpose, production -- increased.
I now feel that I straddle the twin worlds of the foodies and the recovered folks, equally interested in exquisite cuisine and body politics, but not quite reconciled to the fact that neither group seems to be talking to the other. Some psychologists feel that, to be recovered from an eating disorder, food should no longer play a central place in one’s life -- a stance which I disagree with, preferring to face food straight-on and thus dislodge it from its exceptional place in my imagination. On the other side, food writers rarely address the fact that millions of Americans cannot fully enjoy the food so lauded about in the food media because of their own preoccupations with weight and body image. (When I searched for the terms “eating disorder,” “anorexia” and “bulimia” on gourmet.com and bonappetit.com, for example, I found only one result -- a 2002 article in Gourmet about one woman's childhood experience in fat camp. "Obesity" turned up a few more hits, however.) But these issues are two sides of the same coin -- we can love food, but only so much; our bodies and minds will only stand so much food lust, and we must ultimately be satisfied with just enough. And, lest we forget, food has its times and places: there’s a season for plums and another for olives, a moment for birth and a death-hour. Modern grocery-store miracles aside, asparagus and fresh truffles can’t share shelf space.
For now, plums and vin santo; soft light over the patio; eggs being cracked in the kitchen; a good-bye to Italy and a hello to Spain.