Saturday, February 12, 2011


Well, if ever there was a day for enchantment, for love sparks, sweet Valentine’s is surely it.  But even something as gorgeous as enchantment has its edge.

My beloved OED tells me that to enchant is to be “influenced irresistibly as if by a charm; to hold spellbound,” yet it is also to delude or befool (a word alone worth the price of the volumes). Brilliant Jay Griffiths says we humans are endlessly enchantable, which both ennobles and damages us. We have dreams, art and love because of it, yet our enchantability also puts us in deep thrall to power and artifice. We create and support artificial structures, economies that undo us.  See recent ravaged financial systems, our increasingly plundered earth... Enchantment is not as sparkly as it seems on the surface.

Food, too, is one of the enchantments.  We are lured, lulled, loved by it.  Food is as love itself.  But, as with love, there are difficult edges to it too.  And rather than dwell in these, we enchantables like a good airbrush.   

Recently, a SF chef, known for his molecular sway, said of a vaporized beet dish he developed that he wasn’t seeking the beet itself, but the dream of a beet. Which is lyrical in its way, but troubling too. What do we lose when we seek the fiction of a thing rather than the thing proper?  We are deluged in stylish, tight, expensive food images (as well as over-manipulated food). All of it luminously beautiful, of course, but life-sucking as well, this too manicured beauty.  

What's more, we are afraid of our food.  Push it around our plates furtively; worry the salt, the sugar, the fat of it. Is this why we want it immaculate?  Unfoodish?  Soul-stripped?  I had a friend, years ago, who said food was the devil she couldn’t tame. (The devil!)  She couldn’t eat it and she couldn’t stop thinking about it.  Now there's a certain cruel enchantment, no?

And some personal knotty edges:  My teenaged brother and I lived, for a period, on cans of Hormel chili with melted Velveeta. There’s love and grit in that fact - food, class, enduring.  In a room full of people eating companionably, joyously, among the dazzling chime of forks and voices, I'm constantly aware of how we're opening our bodies so intimately, so publicly to our deepest need. There's always ache in this for me. This human vulnerability. This unbearable beauty. I sit and sit with it.

There is food as power, entertainment, class, food that can't be had, enjoyed or shared, food had too much, food as exposure, fraud, as torture, as seduction, as trickery. 

There is no food or love without hardness, friends. These things go hand in hand. Our ever wise Rebecca Solnit wonders of our ultra-pasturized creations, "what are... landscapes and bodies without biology, without threat, without mystery, without darkness?” And I would add: What is food without its crude original life, striped of its ability to sustain? What have we, enchanted, conjured and of what possible use could it be to us?

There is food that creates exile, food that sparks love.  We live in the thick of this.  I say food that sparks love contains flora, flaws, fecundity.  It is food that sparks life. The world enchants us delightedly and enchants us to death. By all means let’s enchant, be enchanted, be enchantable this Valentine's Day. Let's make a hard feast of it, consciously, with all the knotty edges, all the dirt on the beet.

(And praise to love sparker Jasmine Lamb for so charmingly nudging me into this enchanted project.) 

*Jay Griffiths, "Artifice v. Pastoral: The world of fakery and its war on all things natural," Orion March/April, 2009: 20-27.

*Rebecca Solnit, Storming the Gates of Paradise: Landscapes for Politics (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007) 280.


Jasmine said...


It is the end of this enchanted day in which for a myriad of reasons a spell of exhaustion was cast over me.

I've moved between dreaming and Love Sparks. It is time to return to sleep but first I turned over the pages of your post. Exquisite beauty and wisdom on a topic for which I have deep passion: food-truth.

For myself, coming to the truth of food, what it is to take it in, to be of it, to know its origins, its true roots, our biology intertwined with the anatomy of soil—this has shaped my way in the world: what I know of love, and how I nurture myself, take life, exchange molecules, drink the raw cream from the jar.

Love Sparks incredible feasts. Thanks for yours.

The Rowdy Chowgirl said...

What an interesting, thought-provoking post! I just wandered over from The Endive Chronicles, and I'm so glad I did. I'll be mulling over the "hard feast" with it's knotty edges and dirt all day!

Denise | Chez Danisse said...

Very thought provoking and beautiful beets.