Tuesday, January 12, 2010

What would you eat for your last meal?

This semester, I've decided to teach 3 sections of College Composition II using a theme. That theme: Food. While we'll do lots of academic writing and research over the semester, for the first day ice-breaker I wanted to complete a fun prompt.

What would you eat for your last meal? Why?

While I haven't been through all the results yet (there are 75 of them after all), I am fascinated by the repeated themes. People choose their last meal based on memories and on relationships with other people. While the food is described in great detail, it becomes beside the point. Food, what we choose to put in our bodies, connects us to, quite literally everything. As a class we began brainstorming issues related to food and we came up with an impressive list:

social class
popular culture
health care
animal rights

just to name a few....

One thing I try to do throughout the semester is write along with my students.  And, like my students, I was no exception to choosing a last meal based on memories of family.  Here it is:

I would choose comfort food for my last meal and chicken and potatoes with gravy is comforting in a homey, rural way.  I wan my last meal to go like this: it is summer.  I am barefoot, but seated at the dinner table because we always sat down as a family at the dinner table.

The chicken is fried.  Simply dredged in flour, salt and pepper and cooked in Wesson oil in my mom's beat up electric skillet.  The lid of the electric skill is dinged and dented, and the original knob long gone.  My dad replaced the broken knob with an empty thread spool.  In this way, the skillet shows my family's values of resourcefulness and problem solving, and our talent at fixing things with our hands.  After cooking, the meat falls in slivers from the bone and the skin would be crispy and brown, nearly caramelized in places.  I eat the breast, which my mom always cut just to encompass the wishbone.  I make a wish with my father, cracking the wishbone.  One of us tries to cheat by chocking up to far on our half of the bone, but it doesn't matter because we would both wish for the same thing.

There are potatoes, too.  Boiled not mashed.  My dad preferred them boiled--so that's the way my mom always made them, even though my sister and I liked mashed.  Now, I realize that the boiled potato is superior.  It is more flavorful.  It is unadulterated, so the potato tastes faintly of earth from which it came.  Also, the boiled potato allows for maximum gravy absorption.  I press firmly on the potato with the back of my fork until it gives way in moist crumbles, and the tine marks leave a solid imprint--then I dump as much white country gravy over it as it could bear.  Crisp chicken-skin cracklings stud the gravy, and it's dotted with lots of black pepper.

The meal is rounded out with fat slices of juicy beefsteak tomatoes, plucked from the vine only moments before hitting the table.  Sprinkled with only a bit of salt and pepper, these tomatoes are a flavorful dance of acid, sweet, a textural tango of toothy skin and seeds and pure juicy flesh.  I might eat sweet corn, too.  The ear inundated with butter--butter shoved into every crack and crevice between each kernel.

When I think about why it has to be this meal, ultimately it's because its this meal that defines us as a family, and therefore defines who I am.  This was years before I realized there was anything wrong with my parents' marriage.  Years before I thought about us as "country folk."  This is a meal that sets us in a time, in a place. The food was ours.  Homegrown.  Together we raised and butchered the chicken.  Together we planted and watered and weeded the garden.  I would want this to be my last meal because it reminds me of simplicity and innocence.  It brings me back to a time when the dinner table was a safe haven.   These meal that my mother prepared, nearly unchanged, for years became the basis of my food philosophy long before the term locavore was coined.  The idea of knowing where your food comes from and preparing it from scratch have stayed with me all these years, so that's part of it too.  But, finally, this meal is a communion between my body, the food, and the people I share it with.   

So now I want to hear from you.  What would you eat for your last meal? Why?


AMR said...

I'll have to think of this, but I'm thinking it would burger and fries...After writing that I'm reconsidering...

We'll have to talk about our food theme classes! My Honors 1120 food-themed class is going really well too!

Cindy Salo said...

For my last meal I would take a tour of my life. My Mom's tuna casserole; the one with cashews & chow mein noodles -- don't talk to me about peas in tuna casserole! McVities Dark Chocolate Home Wheats bought at a tobacconist in Knightsbridge in the early dusk of a London winter. Rice, black beans, fried plantains and a Carta Blanca beer from a roadside restaurant in the Yucatan with a fully loaded truck in front, surrounded by pieces of its engine as it’s being repaired, a sink for washing your hands in the corner inside, and screen for walls from the waist up. Gerte gu tooy bought from a woman on the street in Senegal: peanuts harvested before they mature, when they’re still sweet, crunchy, and delicious, then roasted in hot sand over a charcoal fire -- one of the best foods I’ve ever eaten. And of course, Idaho russet potatoes with butter and salt. I'd top that off with a pint of vanilla Swiss almond Hagen Daz for dessert.