Instagram is a Lie

IMG_0653 (1)Sometime last year, I wrote about a time when I screwed up majorly at work, and how we don’t talk about that enough. And in that same vein, I am here today to tell you that Instagram is a lie.

Many of you, or approximately 20 of you at last count anyway, saw the picture I posted earlier today of my farmers market haul and the beginnings of my vegetable stock. With cocktail in hand, I must confess to you all that mere hours after that photo was taken I tasted said vegetable stock and found that it was extremely bitter. Like, un-usably bitter.

The internet said to try carrots to sweeten it up, but that didn’t work particularly well, and so it was with a heavy heart that I disposed of a full pot of stock and the vegetable scraps I’d been building up for months. Trying to food better one Sunday at a time, I say? Psh.

IMG_0652 (1)I’ll admit I reacted to this failure pretty well. I spent the next half an hour googling all of the things that could have made the stock so bitter, reassured myself that I still had some chicken stock left and a whole chicken carcass that I could use to make more in the very near future, and stared at the photogenic farmers market haul half of the photo. And least now I know that you really shouldn’t put any cruciferous vegetables in stock (no broccoli, kale, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage etc.), and frankly I had quite a few.

Of course this wouldn’t have been worth a blog post if I had reacted completely rationally. What did this do to my “trying to food better” claims, what about all those scraps I had to throw out? What about the farmers market haul which was primarily things like kale and mushrooms and therefore unlikely to contribute to future stock projects? What does “trying to food better” even mean if you can’t get stock right?

Calm your shit, Sara. This is what happens when former straight A students try new projects.

By some estimates, up to 40% of the food in this country goes uneaten. Additionally, our corporate farm culture has greatly diminished our biodiversity, takes unbelievable amounts of energy to produce and transport subpar stuff, and has in countless ways distorted our diet. And while some of us feast on out of season vegetables that crossed oceans to get to us, much of our most vulnerable populations live in food deserts created by grocery stores that flee for “greener” pastures.

I love food – I love eating it, I love cooking it, I love reading about it and watching things about it (Hey Netflix, GET SOME ACTUAL COOKING SHOWS) and traveling places to get it and trying new and increasingly stranger variations of it. And even I have those days where I’m like being a human is so hard you have to just keep buying food and cooking it and then eating it and you have to come up with all these variations and it takes so much time and then you STILL have to do the dishes. Food is the foundation for a lot of our culture. There is, as Anthony Bourdain says, nothing more political than food. Who makes it, who has access to it, where it comes from – these are questions that drive not only our own individual experiences, but geography and politics and violence around the world.

I’ve been trying to be better. I’m going back to my local farmer’s market every week, and soon I’m going to try buying meat and cheese there as well as produce. (I’m aiming for vegetarian this week because last week was a gluttonous, carnivorous fest in honor of my Dad and Kelly and I all being in the same hemisphere). We can all be a little better about our food, for our own sake’s as well as the planet, but I know can do that a lot easier than others because of health and wealth and a million other kinds of privilege, and I have a responsibility to keep making that choice. So I saved the empty bags and I’ll just keep filling them up.

And try to remember to keep the kale stems out this time, will you Sara?

This rant brought to you by Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, which while occasionally a little tone deaf is a pretty lovely introduction to the pleasures and politics of food.

Be Loyal to the Nightmare You’ve Chosen

Lately, I’ve developed a bit of a fixation with Anthony Bourdain. You may know him from either of his television shows, No Reservations or Parts Unknown, or possibly from his memoir-ish book Kitchen Confidential, which is lauded as an expose into seedy underbelly of the restaurant world. Really, it’s an expose into the seedy underbelly of Anthony Bourdain’s restaurant world. But that’s not really the point.

The point is that Bourdain is a chef who wrote a book (several actually, including two novels) and the suddenly, even though he seems to consider himself a chef still, he’s also got two television shows where he gets to eat and witness his way around the world. He’s grumpy and kind of an asshole. And he has my dream life.

bourdain_2If there’s anything I’ve learned from reading and watching a lot of Anthony Bourdain lately, is that there was no real way to plan how to get where he got. He was a screw up and a drug addict, and then he wasn’t. And even though he’s known as a chef, he’s still managed to do something I’ve been struggling to do all summer.

Write.

This blog post is getting away from me. I can’t tell if I want to write about how watching Anthony Bourdain travel all over the world is driving me crazy because I want to travel all over the world but I don’t have the money. Also traveling while female and alone isn’t exactly the same as traveling as Anthony Bourdain with fixers and interpreters and the weight of CNN behind you.

But it’s also about how Anthony Bourdain calls himself a chef, but he managed to get up in the morning and write in a way that I haven’t been able to all summer. About how he, with all his foibles and flirtations with addiction, has more experience with the world, more tastes and smells and sounds and sensations than I’ll ever have. For the most part, that’s pretty okay with me. I’m down with not trying heroin. Or cocaine. Also he doesn’t appreciate wine nearly as much as he should.

But there’s a sense of abandon there, a commitment to life and an ability to get through the day without analyzing and questioning everything, that I really wish I had sometimes. I wonder too if that’s somehow related to my inability to sit down and write, even though I think about it all the time. I wonder if there’s a knife-edge that some people start out on, with wild abandon on one side and playing it too safe on the other. Another set of extremes I worry about in myself is that I’m so afraid of losing myself in the wild abandon that I don’t go anywhere near it.

In the Congo episode of Parts Unknown Bourdain quotes Heart of Darkness: “Be loyal to the nightmare you’ve chosen.” There’s something to that, I think. Not just in saying that you have to commit to your choices, even when they get hard (which is certainly what Bourdain was saying even if it might not have been what Conrad meant). But also that you have to make the choice in the first place.

Just write, goddamn it.

But first, Anthony Bourdain is going to Peru, so I’m going to go watch that.

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