JUST OPEN A CAN
I miss the days when we made garlands with strips of colored paper folded into rings and glued together for the Christmas tree.
In winter we would crack nuts that arrived with their shells intact.
My father would split walnuts by gripping together two in one fist.
Some nuts were impossible to break—like macadamias—whose shells resist bashing and end up whole in the rubbish.
One year, four of us older girls (my youngest sister and brother were still in diapers) discovered we could shuck nuts by placing them underneath the rocking chair.
We created an assembly line Henry Ford would admire: one of us would direct traffic, another sister positioned the nut on the floor, one of us rocked, one of us would gather the remains, and we then shared the sweet meats.
Just Open a Can
As a college student I tried many times to make pie from pumpkins, squash and sweet potatoes.
The father of my boyfriend at the time asked me: “Why don’t you just open a can?”
Because I liked the sport of wrangling pumpkin flesh: of trying something new, and I wanted to feel more connected to the task.
Kitchen chores and cooking now appear so seamlessly streamlined that a food’s origins vanish.
Spinach comes washed and dried while broccoli arrives in bags with individual florettes.
Peas are stripped of their pods, carrots are skinned, cabbage is sliced and fish are gutted.
When I visited Hong Kong on a writing assignment in the 1980s, I ventured out one day to explore Kowloon, and found myself at an open-air farmers’ market.
The street teemed with wildlife: frogs of all shapes jumped in grass baskets while chickens and ducks strutted between the legs of vendors.
I tripped over a six-foot eel wriggling on wet concrete.
The best thing about the market was the fish.
They were alive, swimming in tubs, awaiting their fate.
I bought a pound of shrimp that the merchant poured into a bag full of water.
My palm opened so the vendor could choose whatever coins she needed.
Then I heard my name: “Cynthia!”
Diana [a pseudonym], who worked for the CEO I was interviewing, saw me at the market and seemed incredulous I would spend the morning bargaining for fish.
Best part of travel is to wander and explore, and to be prepared for…anything.
I speak no Mandarin and no Cantonese, but found my way through the thicket of the market.
The shrimp pitched around in the bag as I walked home to the guest house, eager to cook my lunch on one of the two electric burners of the stove-top in the smallest-kitchen-in-the-world.
Today, when I want to eat fish or mollusks in Portland, I venture out to the Asian markets for crab or crayfish or mussels or cockles: anything alive.
Once home, I name the creatures, place them in the bathtub, and prepare a boiling broth or hot grille for a quick slaughter.
My treatment of the living comes from Indigenous relatives who have taken time to show me their respect for the lives they seek for sustenance.
One of my great-uncles, who was raised near Pine Ridge in South Dakota, set traps as a young lad for critters: squirrels, rabbits and the occasional bird.
Uncle John would fashion a box-trap, with twine attached to a stick that would trip when a critter entered the trap, which would then ensnare dinner.
My grandmother—raised on the Osage reserve in Oklahoma—told me squirrel was greasy.
But she liked rabbit and would send my mother to the butcher to bring home bunny for supper.
My mother said skinned rabbit looked like a dead cat, which she carried, wrapped in newspaper, with her schoolbooks.
My husband and I buy almost all of our food at a neighborhood grocery store and our Saturday farmers’ market.
In spring and summer we grow lettuce, arugula, tomatoes, beans, squash, potatoes, peas, garlic, onions, berries and herbs that we cook with gusto.
We enjoy a marketplace of abundance.
Still, we acknowledge our separation from farm to table: a journey of weigh-stations and exchanges.
What we don’t see is where we try to place our attention.
For example, my husband now feels he should be a full-time vegetarian due—in part—to animal slaughter: something we don’t witness.
The Revolution of Resolution
I do my best to honor his resolve, which I see as revolutionary.
He revolts against the harm caused when animals are slaughtered for our pleasure.
My resolve is to become more mindful of my flesh-eating habitus and of what we cannot see.
I look around my home.
I see oranges on the kitchen table, wood in the chairs, a gas fire and woolen rugs on the floor.
Each has been built, woven, polished, grown, harvested and shipped to bring comfort to me and my family.
My resolution for 2023 embraces Buddhism: pay attention.
Start a revolution.
In that vein, I hope the new year—2023—brings you a connection to the creation and context of creature comforts, and that you feel the linkage with herbs, flowers and plants; and with the two-legged, four-legged and eight-legged critters that are part of the network that makes life meaningful.
Photo credit: Stock image from Dreamstime.com
Sunday 15 January 2023
For my pals Jackleen and Dave, who often share their table with us, my husband, and to my families in South Dakota, Oklahoma, Texas, California, Illinois, Washington, New York, Ohio, Michigan, Arkansas, Arizona, New Jersey, Nevada, Colorado, Wyoming, North Carolina, South Carolina…other pockets of North America, and Thailand and beyond.
I honor the Native Peoples on whose ancestral homelands we gather here in the Pacific Northwest.