Last week, I went outside to pull weeds. My intention was to spend 10 minutes clearing out a space in the bed to plant garlic.
Ten minutes, I knew, was approximately the amount of time that my injured brain and arms could handle, after a long day of doing other things. Ten minutes, I figured, was enough time to clear out a small patch of dirt.
But those darn weeds were enormous and deeply ingrained. I had to work to extract them from the hard earth. Carefully monitoring my head and arms, I dug in with my spade, finessed those roots, and yanked away.
My head and arms felt fine, so I kept going. It started to feel good. It started to feel cathartic! Die, wide-spreading and oversized weed! Remove thy thick and unwholesome tendrils from my erstwhile pristine garden patch!
I stood up, leaned over the thing, and worked at it like a fiend. It finally came out—I jerked and fell backwards! And I tossed the monstrous thing behind me in triumph.
Oops, 30 minutes had passed. I started to feel queasy and went inside. I had to rest my head and arms the entire next day.
I had vanquished the weed, . . . but it had, in turn, subtracted life points from me.
My garlic remains unplanted, as I recover from the incident. But somehow, the struggle for homegrown vegetables is worth the trouble. I just need to find a better balance, know when to stop and let the weeds win the battle.
So I can win the war.
Michael W. Twitty, as I wrote last week, is fighting a war of his own. Like my war with my garden, it’s a war of his own making, a war that he has decided is worth fighting.
Despite all hardships.
And there are many hardships.
Twitty’s war is to research African-American history, with a special focus on genealogy and culinary history. That means encountering and engaging with slavery.
Further, Twitty does more than just read books. He is also a culinary reenactor. He goes to plantations, dresses as his ancestors did, and cooks traditional Southern meals. Thus, he doesn’t just contemplate slavery, he goes a long way toward embodying it. He even describes picking cotton by hand, for hours on end, just to gain whatever knowledge, experience, and spirituality he might gain from such a punishing endeavor.
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Two comments on Twitty’s website and blog, Afroculinaria, are particularly illuminating. On September 10 of this year, Wanda Hunt wrote:
“I just recently saw you on an episode of Taste the Nation, your work is breathtaking and I imagine one that often exacts a heavy personal toll. . . . Thank you for what you do. Please also take care of yourself while processing so many horrors from both the past and the present.”
The same day, Twitty responded:
“Absolutely. Thank you, most ppl don’t realize you have to do the work…walking, breathing, decompressing, praying to not get spirituall[y] burned doing this..thank you Wanda!”
It’s not easy. He does it anyway.
Twitty also knows intimately the struggles of growing one’s own food, which is akin to his struggles to get the cooking right. Gardening and cooking—these are difficult endeavors that can also be extremely cathartic.
Without claiming that my battles to heal myself and get back to gardening are on par with Twitty’s battles to know and engage with his heritage, I will note that all humans, he, I, you, and everyone, have our own battles and wars. We also have our own ways of finding relief.
I was struck by one of the recipes in Twitty’s book, The Cooking Gene. At the end of one emotionally difficult and inspiring chapter, he includes a recipe called “Beaten Biscuits.”
As I scanned the instructions, I noticed this sentence:
“The dough should be pounded with a hammer, solid rolling pin, mallet, or the back of an ax for 25 to 35 minutes, until the dough appears smooth and blisters.”
Nice! At that point, I realized that Twitty understood catharsis. Maybe that sort of bludgeoning is merely what was needed, before electricity was invented, to make great biscuits. That could well be the case. But I suspect that Twitty, as a deeply spiritual person, has a special appreciation for this part of the recipe.
Have you attacked anything recently?