Yesterday, I watched an employee bend down to draw a pink-chalk “x” on the sidewalk outside the grocery store, carefully walk heel-to-toe 6 times, then draw another. She asked all of us in line to move onto her marks, so we would be certain to stand 6 footsteps away from each other. I couldn’t see anyone’s expression, because everyone wore face masks. I came home with a few paper bags full of food and no appetite.
Ironically, I’ve been reading food writer and essayist MFK Fisher. She wrote during WWII, another period of global uncertainty and strict regulations on day-to-day life, and her writing is full of practical advice that resonates now. She suggests we balance our days instead of just our meals, simplify our appetites rather than labor in the kitchen—but also insists that giving care and attention to what we eat matters, because our hunger for security and love is intrinsically connected to our hunger for food.
MFK Fisher does not write about cooking as a frivolous distraction but as an opportunity to reassert our humanity when the world outside our windows becomes hostile to it. Her words allow us to imagine that if even if everything went from bad to worse, we’d figure out a way to move forward. At the moment, my favorite passage is from How to Cook a Wolf (written in 1942). In a style that manages to be simultaneously hilarious and heartening, MFK Fisher briskly instructs her readers on how to cope in a state of emergency:
“If it comes to that, no book on earth can help you, but only your inborn sense of caution and balance and protection: the same thing cats feel sometimes, or birds or elephants…If you are not in a state of emergency, but merely living as so many people have lived for many months now…you will be able to make very good meals indeed…Use as many fresh things as you can, always, and then trust to luck and your blackout cupboard and what you have decided, inside yourself, about the dignity of man.”
For more MFK Fisher: I recommend The Gastronomical Me, How to Cook a Wolf, and Consider the Oyster.
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