Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Requiem for a Kale

My heart is always saddened by the sight of decaying food. Rancid milk, shriveled cilantro, fuzzy green tangerines... This morning while I was still wandering through the apartment groggy-eyed in my Mexican muumuu nightgown (brightly colored flowers embroidered on a bed sheet converted into a dress, still wearing it now, I must admit), Erin had already finished her breakfast, pinned up her hair, and was about to head out to work when she let out a low mournful sound. I followed her gaze to the mass she had just pulled out of her cloth shopping bag.

Poor, poor yellowed kale! It came from a farmers' market less than two weeks ago and lay forgotten, trapped in the dark, lonely folds of her bag hung on the kitchen doorknob. And now its withered leaves would go straight to the green compost bin. Kale being the the first half of my vegetable name, I decided to take it personally. I have all day to think up whatever small vengeance I shall extract from Ms. Kohlrabi when she gets home. The Brassica family looks out for its own. Be warned.

It is a sad kale, yet beautiful in a sere, austere way. We must console ourselves with the remembrance that this vegetable body, put to rest, will eventually give sustenance to a new form of life as it rejoins the soil.

Requiem aeternam dona huic brassicae oleraceae, Domine.

[Grant this kale eternal rest, O Lord.] I mustered my one year of Latin to attempt correct conjugation of the kale element in that phrase, brassica oleracea.

For another way to consider decay, I turn you to my personal poet laureate Elizabeth Bishop, who writes in her essay "Memories of Uncle Neddy" in The Collected Prose:

Except for the fact that they give me asthma, I am very fond of molds and mildews. I love the dry-looking, gray-green dust, like bloom on fruit, to begin with, that suddenly appears here on the soles of shoes in the closet, on the backs of all the black books, or the darkest ones, in the bookcase [KD's note: "here" is Rio de Janeiro, Brazil]. And I love the black shadow, like the finest soot, that suddenly shows up, slyly, on white bread, or white walls. The molds on food go wild in just a day or two, and in a hot, wet spell like this, a tiny jungle, green, chartreuse, and magenta, may start up in a corner of the bathroom. That gray-green bloom, or that shadow of fine soot, is just enough to serve as a hint of morbidity, attractive morbidity--although perhaps mortality is a better word. The gray-green suggests life, the sooty shadow--although living, too--death and dying.

One of the things I like best about this passage is how it reminds us that the alarming signs of spoiled food--here in particular the dark, insidious change of color but also the foul smells and transformed textures we associate with foods gone bad--are at the same time signs of life, but also of death and life intermingling in tiny dramas that play themselves out in our refrigerators and storage shelves, in our forgotten shopping bags. It also recalls to me how many foods that I enjoy are really "bad" made "good," like cheese, bread pudding, or anything fermented really.

If I think hard enough, I may be able to effect an alchemical transformation whereby it is obviously much healthier and more life-affirming to stay in the house all day in my muumuu instead of taking a shower and stepping outside to feel the sun and wind on my face.

1 comment:

kale daikon said...

Throwing a pebble into the echo chamber of the blog annex... to say that I think I've found the perfect candidate for my new therapist. John Birdsall at the SF Weekly food blog read the Michael Jackson mourning subtext into this kale post the other day, which I was not consciously aware of but wholeheartedly agree with.

Read his analysis here or paste this:

People like to say that MJ peaked in the '80s, but I must confess there's a special place in my heart for "You Are Not Alone."