Its late. My once dull headache now pounds furiously. My mouth, so dry, can no longer hold words. The murmur of bubbling, gurgling emptiness inside now pervades my whole body with an angry pulse. I feel like an imploding star and my stomach growls in angry protest. I am caving in, hungry.
For us fortunate ones, writing in the comfort of a home with a well stocked pantry and fridge, it is difficult to describe the primal animal pangs of hunger. We have the audacity and luxury to ask “what’s for dinner?” They are too many of us who know hunger all too well and are not reading this blog or scouring the net for recipes. It occurs to me that I have yet to explain why “the hungry philosopher.” I have not “known” hunger. I have been an occasional tourist, when fasting or skipping an occasional meal. My few years in Bangladesh, notorious for hungry people, I enjoyed a steady rhythm of four meals a day (including tea) surrounded by lush fruit trees and the heavy scent of sauteing ginger, garlic and onions lazily wafting from the distant kitchen across the veranda. I have seen hunger. It looks like a strange combination of restless anxiety and despondent lethargy. Famed Bangladeshi artist, Zainul Adedin’s depiction of the 1940s famine (now housed in the British Museum) may help visualize.
It is disheartening for me to know that where I live, one of richest countries in the world, dehumanizing hunger is allowed to exist. I am not an expert on hunger and cannot not speak on it’s ruthless behalf. My reference to hunger is perhaps ashamedly cerebral and poetic. Consider this both an apology and a belated explanation.
The hungry philosopher thinks by visualizing and tasting, by confronting primal anxieties through an awareness of life sustaining small things ingested and shared, like kale, bread and blueberries. This is merely an account of my struggle to conjure meaning out of suburban existence marked by grocery at Payless, soccer games on cold wet mornings, weekday afternoon dance classes, rushed dinners, rattling washer-dryers, sink full of dishes and repeat. No grand Pioneer woman prairie vistas, Anthony Bourdain exotic layovers, Ina Garten Hampton elegance or Giada ocean views. No. This is a bitter cold winter and long summer twilight Mid-western small town. I hunger and long for escape to either exciting coast only to rush back to the safety and ease of the empty Indianapolis airport. We make small meanings here. The popcorn festivals, the farmer’s markets, the ice-cream socials, the community bbqs, the Mainstreet festivals, the school fundraisers, the “diverse world community” celebrations and yes, the family dinner are all a part of that struggle. I once heard there are only one of three reasons to live anywhere: family, job or beauty. Confessedly, for most of the year, beauty is not the reason to live in suburban West Lafayette, Indiana. The charm of sleepy small towns is lost on immigrants, like myself, craving the support of big city economic, racial, religious, sexual diversity and comforting anonymity. This blog is about finding myself in that real and imagined larger world, beyond cosmopolitan cities, across space and time through internet magic. Here you are reading my words. What do we have in common? We are all struggling to make meaning of our everyday through the meals we eat. We are a community of eaters aware of our visceral and virtual dependence on others for emotional and biological sustenance and assurance. The hungry philosopher in all of us is hungry for a plated robust life. I don’t know why you are still generously reading this, except that maybe wherever you are, you are hungry and struggling to plate meaning too. This blog is not about helping you make meaning but helping you recognize that you already are.
I’d like to end with how chef Gabrielle Hamilton’s describes her taste of hunger and why it is the organizing principle of her restaurant having “understood hospitality and care from a recipient’s point of view.” She writes,
“ I came to see hunger as being as important a part of a stage as knife skills. Because so much of starving on that trip led to such an enormous amount of time fantasizing about food, each craving became fanatically particular. Hunger was not general, ever, for just something, anything, to eat. My hunger grew so specific I could name every corner and fold of it. Salty, warm, brothy, starchy, fatty, sweet, clean and crunchy, crisp and watery, and so on.”