Sunday, September 23, 2007

Letter to Barbara Kingsolver

Dear Barbara Kingsolver,

I spent yesterday holed up in my tiny studio, kneading bread while listening to Animal, Vegetable, Miracle on audiobook. I would have been completely alone, were it not for your voice recounting the wonders of asparagus and my active little baking companions, the yeast. They soon got to work filling the apartment with the most divine smell, and I recalled a silly line by Kurt Vonnegut:

“Kilgore Trout once wrote a short story which was a dialogue between two pieces of yeast. They were discussing the possible purposes of life as they ate sugar and suffocated in their own excrement. Because of their limited intelligence, they never came close to guessing that they were making champagne."

My boyfriend, Andy, is an incurable Vonnegut fan and an unrepentant bookworm in general (as am I), so I prodded him to write to this quirky man whose words he couldn’t get enough of. He did, and beautifully, while I looked up the address and bought some stamps. A few months later, Vonnegut died. Of course we wonder about the letter, but what I like to think about is how Andy was changed by the books, and how he wrote the letter with such integrity and wit. (It makes me love him more). Every time I rave about your books now, I get a little reminder from him that it’s my turn to write a letter.

And so the yeast and the bread and the book and the quote just came together and told me what I have to tell you, that I am so thankful for your writing. In college, your novels were the reading indulgence that kept me loving books even after studying well past the point of burnout. But it is Animal, Vegetable, Miracle that’s speaking to me now – right out of my iPod and into my soul.

I’ve sensed for a while that something’s amiss with our food, something that’s screwed us all royally, myself included. What you’ve pinpointed as a loss or lack of a solid food culture has left us ignorant and anxious about eating, a natural, wonderful part of being alive. So many of us eat as though doing so is a necessary evil (and with the prevalence of low-quality food, evil it may be). We’ve been duped by fraudulent food and perverse eating patterns to such an extent that it seems weird, weird, to go through that most lovely process of cooking, eating, and enjoying a meal.

I miss meals. I think I lost track of them at some point in college where the choices included the all-you-can-eat binge buffet or the air-and-artificial-sweetener ice cream imposter known as “Tasti D Lite” (the mainstay of skinny sorority girls). As a child I had planted my own cherry tomatoes, entered homemade pies in the County Fair, and experimented with ethnic cuisine from books I checked out of the library. Somehow, though, these pursuits became embarrassingly bumpkinish and breakfast soon deteriorated from Dad’s whole grain pancakes to a large coffee with Splenda, even while I was majoring in nutrition! My peers and I were too busy, too hip, too impatient for authentic cooking and dining. To even admit that you liked food was almost seen as a weakness, as though we should still feel guilt over Eve and that apple. Even now, two years out of college, disordered eating and a pervasive disquiet about food are what I face daily, especially in my career as a performing artist, where healthy diets are rare.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is helping me see the beauty in food again. That I can honestly love cooking and eating while still being intellectual, sophisticated, and even feminine is a delightful idea to wrap my mind around, an attitude that will take practice to internalize, but is a worthy aim. Having read books by Michael Pollan and Marion Nestle recently and learned a great deal from them, I feel the need to do my part in straightening out our communities’ crooked food systems. It is your story, though, that has helped me make the connection between my own personal food philosophy and the larger issues of sustainable agriculture and public health nutrition in our country. Thank you.

Best wishes and be well,

Meghan E. Miller

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

It's mid-September, midway through one of my month-long breaks from Quidam, unsure if this means I am on hiatus from or have rejoined the "real world." Coming back to San Francisco is one great halleluja after my distressing wrestle with China. I need this month to repair and recoup some things seem to have broken or gone missing in Asia, namely, my digestive system, my love of the outdoors, and my sense of tolerance for humanity.

I'm back in my role as professional dilettante. I can really kick my own ass with such self-prescribed tasks as picking up dry-cleaning, reading the NY Times, and buying a new box of bandaids (after my recent cantaloupe-slicing incident). I tell myself to chill, really, but what makes it so impossible is that there are so many WAYS to chill and it can be excruciating to choose how best to fill unstructured time. One problem is that my temporary status makes it impractical to sign up for anything long-term, like book clubs, dance classes, or local activist organizations, all of which I'm eager to be part of in a future where my feet are glued to one spot for more than a couple weeks. For now, it feels like I am peering through a window into a city I will someday fully inhabit.

This break, though, I've definitely made my way closer to becoming a San Franciscan, mastering the public transportation system and spending a significant part of every day on the Muni bus on my way to the SF Circus Center, where I'm working hard to craft an aerial hoops solo act of my very own. I want to have material that isn't copyrighted by Cirque du Soleil, Inc., something I can sell, perform at gigs, and know that it is 100% me. Spending every day at the studio has at least made me a "regular" somewhere and given me some new friends.