While the jitney is a transportation fixture in much of the world, the only jitney I have ridden in the United States was on Flatbush Avenue, in Brooklyn, New York, around ten years ago. I was with my Uncle Ed, and he was on a hunt for superior Jamaican jerk chicken. Even in New York, a city that allowed me to avoid driving until I was 24 years old, public transportation couldn't take us to the place Ed had in mind, to which he'd been tipped off by the friend of the dishwasher at the restaurant where the chef was the squash partner of...etc.
The jitney that picked us up near the subway stop for a dollar each was a low-riding, beige tank of a station wagon of indeterminate vintage, cruising with windows rolled down against the summer heat. We were the only passengers during the ride. Ed leaned forward in his amiable, lumbering way and started a conversation with the driver about the Al Green gospel album playing, which transitioned into Ed's asking about where the driver, who was Jamaican, liked to eat in the neighborhood. We smelled our destination approaching us on the jitney's route before we saw it: savory smoke billowed from large oil drums in an empty parking lot next to the small store front.
I remember the unbelievably delicious jerk chicken we ate at the Flatbush joint as a revelation, having previously associated the item on menus with uninspiring, sweet, glop-covered meat. After ten years, I still remember a spicy cow hoof soup that we tried, though it sticks in my mind as an adventure more than something I'd seek out again. I remember the owner's son, a handsome young man in dark glasses who was trying to make it as a reggae star (as we discovered in another Ed initiated conversation). But, my central memory remains the jitney ride, my uncle leaning forward in his seat, wholly comfortable in unfamiliar territory and engaged with where he was, driven on by an infectious enthusiasm for good things to eat.
Apparently other people admire this quality in Ed, as well. He's written for publications including Gourmet and the New York Times; current Gourmet Editor and former NYT critic, Ruth Reichel, once referred to Ed as the "Missionary of the Delicious." So, there's objective support for my, admittedly, biased plug for his new, comprehensive food website, Serious Eats, which officially launches tomorrow morning. The site includes links to many other sites, video, a chat board and much more. I encourage everyone to take a look.
Apart from my excitement over an outlet for my uncle's charismatic passion for food, I'm pleased to have a new, centralized resource to seek out for food writing and information. While as a site of general interest perhaps not all of Accidental Blogger's readers are as food obsessed as I am, I would recommend some of my favorite food writers to even the most indifferent eater out there. As an example to close this post, in a "Foreword" to her collection of essays, The Gastronomical Me (1943), M. F. K. Fisher offered an impassioned apologia for her choice of food as a literary subject that has long been one of my favorite passages of writing, on any topic:
People ask me: Why do you write about food, and eating and drinking? Why don't you write about the struggle for power and security, and about love, the way others do?
They ask it accusingly, as if I were somehow gross, unfaithful to the honor of my craft.
The easiest answer is to say that, like most other humans, I am hungry. But there is more than that. It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot write straightly of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the love of it and the hunger for it,...and then the warmth and richness and fine reality of hunger satisfied...and it is all one.
I tell about myself, and how I ate bread on a lasting hillside, or drank red wine in a room now blown to bits, and it happens without my willing it that I am telling too about the people with me then, and their other deeper needs for love and happiness.
There is food in the bowl, and more often than not, because of what honesty I have, there is nourishment in the heart, to feed the wilder, more insistent hungers. We must eat. If, in the face of that dread fact, we can find other nourishment, and tolerance and compassion for it, we'll be no less full of human dignity.
There is a communion of more than our bodies when bread is broken and wine is drunk. And that is my answer, when people ask me: Why do you write about hunger, and not wars or love?