Our place in history ...

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Corn tortillas and peanut butter -

I began today by thinking about the following quotes:

"A nation which has forgotten the quality of courage which in the past has been brought to public life is not as likely to insist upon or regard that quality in its chosen leaders today - and in fact we have forgotten."

"For time and the world do not stand still. Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or the present are certain to miss the future."

They led me to an essay that I wrote in the Fall of 2004.

One full of the kinds of thoughts in my head each Thanksgiving:

"On corn tortillas and peanut butter ...

I have nothing exceptionally clever or memorable to say about this world, the people in it, or the meaning of life. Nothing impacting to contribute to engineering, fine-art, timeless-writing, architecture, medicine, religion, economics, or any of the social sciences, humanities, or laboratory sciences. Please don’t ask me anything related to the definition of love or the practice of loving. As has been said by countless communicators on numerous occasions, 'if I knew anything about love, I’d be out there making it instead of sitting here talkin’ about it with you... no offense.' But although I have remarkably little to offer in return, I am in fact so bold as to request something from you: Please do me the enormous favor of trying corn tortillas with peanut butter. Do so with the understanding that I make no promises that to do so is earth shattering; no guarantees that the experience is existence-altering in and of itself. Do so because you’re willing to risk that the combination of corn tortillas and peanut butter might just produce a damn fine food: a culinary competitor to the crème-de-la crème of upper-crust cuisine.

Heat the tortillas up directly on the short, flickering flame produced by a gas-range adjusted to low-medium heat, or the early-sunset orange produced by an electric stovetop on a similar setting. First warm one side until the edges slightly burn. Then heat the other side until the center of the tortillas rises up like yeasted dough left in a warm, tranquil kitchen corner. Remove the tortilla from the stove and use a wide, flat knife to spread peanut butter on the fresh-from-the-flame side that would serve to do nothing but scald your fingers if you were to handle it. So of course, you see the wisdom of this approach… it quickly and easily heats the peanut butter, and efficiently and effectively prevents you from getting burned. (For the record: Chunky peanut butter works and tastes much better than the smooth variety. And when I say spread I mean glob on and smear around the way that whipped cream cheese is scooped and slapped on a freshly toasted poppy-seed at a place where they boil the bagels before they bake them).

This is the only thing that makes sense to me. A food created by a disenfranchised black man in search of the American dream—a dream pursued because it was promised to all persons, even those f*@ked-over by the fraction of 3/5—meets the result of corn kernels once ground into dough using spit, lye and stone. George Washington Carver’s tastiest and most well-known peanut-derived invention, filling flat, round edible suns created by Natives who saw their libraries burned by the same people who offered them Christian salvation; indigenous people whose languages, lifestyles, and lands died by the dozens, so that the New World could seem empty. Because only an empty world could be filled by brown, black, red, yellow, and white bums as well as multiracial, multicolored beggars clamoring to clean-up after, bathe, behold-to, coddle, carry, raise, toady, marabou, sycophant and serve the luxurious less-than-1%. That special socioeconomic class that merits all they have because of their diligence, genius, imagination, and outlook; that speaks of freedom, opportunity, and progress for all those the Lord loves—you know, the obedient, the devout, the trusting, and the self-reliant: those that ask not for a hand up or out… those that buckle-down, nose-to-the-grindstone, and find a way to help themselves.

Corn tortillas and peanut butter are as revolutionary and subversive as love and hope. Yet unlike the most common reserves and fountains of these: family, friendship, Faith, visual art, the captured word, the warmth and comfort of a nearby companion, and the tone and sensation of music, corn tortillas and peanut butter fill the bellies of all those who are alive, nourish the developing bellies of those yet to be born, and at least one case—that being mine—will fill the belly of a man willing to meet his demise with nothing more to show for his life than this tribute to corn tortillas and peanut butter, attached to a note of thanks to the African-Americans and Mesoamericans who made it possible for the starving disempowered to be the fed empowered. Bob Marley sang, 'Them belly full but we hungry.' Here’s the key to make it no longer true. To survive, democracy needs corn tortillas and peanut butter, and all else that holds the voices of the historically marginalized, maligned and forgotten. To flourish, democracy needs ballots cast by voters no longer satiated with procedure and malnourished by a lack of substance."


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