The Good Earth and the need to get past talking about food

So I've now read The Good Earth by Pearl S Buck.  I don't know what the 'S' stood or stands for, but obviously Mrs Buck thought it was important.  I can't call her "Pearl" because really she is an author of stature and old and dead to boot, and I keep thinking of the song "Pearl's a Singer" which isn't quite seemly.

I liked the cadences of the prose.  Really, I did have such a pretentious thought.  I like how it has a fable-like quality which I have decided is because of all the Bible saturation which Pearl S Buck, daughter of a missionary, experienced.  I quote:
"Men labored all day at the baking of breads and cakes for feasts for the rich and children labored from dawn to midnight and slept all greasy and grimed as they were on rough pallets on the floor and staggered to the ovens the next day, and there was not money enough given them to buy a piece of the rich breads they made for others." (p.113)
It reads like the Bible to me.  And funnily enough it is about food. 

Food and inequality.

Shall we talk some more about food?  It's only the most popular topic of conversation since the Beatles, and in case you were making assumptions about me being of advanced age on the basis of me ranting a lot, I would point out that I wasn't even conceived when the Beatles were hot.

In the Sunday Star Times last weekend there was an article on how food has taken over from music as a marker of identity.  From the Rolling Stones to backyard pizza ovens - haven't we got raunchy?  Possibly, those boomers knew (know?) how to party better than we do.  Somewhere else this week I learnt (I was in the kitchen, so I suppose it was someone on National Radio) that cookbooks are the best selling type of book in New Zealand.

So, earlier in the week, I was up to the part in The Good Earth where Wang Lung and his wife and children are living on the edges of the city working every hour of day and night to try and get money to merely not die, and their great sustenance is that they are served rice in a queue every day by some benevolent rich person who is not so much benevolent as wanting to do 'good' deeds to buy a place in heaven in the next life.  Only at the breakfast table, I'm not reading The Good Earth because it doesn't work so well with constant interruptions about school uniforms and teeth brushing and unfed chooks and lunchbox demands and all that s-t-u-f-f.  I'm reading a book called 500 Paleo Recipes and the bit at the front where she discusses all the things wrong with most foods I ever ate as a child or as a student and to a large extent now, and what super expensive substitutes should be used instead just strikes me as the sign of  (cue another pretentious statement - that's two tonight already) the decline of civlisation. 

We have a world in which most people cannot manage to feed themselves and their families adequately on any kind of food, a world where even in New Zealand a huge number of households lack the means and confidence that they can provide nutritious and filling food for their families every day.  Yet every newspaper, every magazine stall, every library display, every non-fiction book shop shelf, is CHOCK full of recipes and food fads and instructions on what is good food and bad food and really bad food and it turns out that mostly everything I ever liked is B-A-D.

Then I'm watching the film The Hunger Games and I discover that it's really good, not just the teen sensation I had assumed, and it reminds me exactly of the Roman gladiators and the links to our modern reality television are chillingly accurate.

And that's how I decide that the rich with their paleo diets (or insert whichever food craze you're into or noticing right now) are hideous manifestations of post-industrial, globalised inequality.  Meanwhile John Key is patting himself on the back because he's done a deal with Fonterra and Sanitarium to guarantee to grow their markets with no competition by funding their food in schools programmes (God forbid that any school be able to make its own choices about how it spends the food money).  I bore my own privileged daughter to deafness by telling her that there are children in our town, in our country, who are going hungry right now.

But it turns out that there are more important things in my privileged, food-rich life than paleo or low carb fads (please let's not mention the word 'gluten', ever), so one of my non-paid jobs this week is to write a letter to our local council to get a rule change so that no one can wander around our swimming pool topless with a large swastika (visible from the other side of the pool complex) tattooed on his chest.  So easy to think it couldn't happen here, but I figure that is how things took hold in Germany at the beginning of Hitler's campaign. 


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