The below piece was produced as a part of a Passover supplement for Dwelling in a Time of Plagues in response to the idea of liberation from the plague of food insecurity.
Before I had a name anyone recognized, before I had a book or two James Beard awards, I was penniless and food insecure, and Pesach was coming. The recession hit hard, and I wondered, in shame, how did I get here? How could a big guy, like me, a chef searching for a kitchen, run out of money for food? How did I get here?
I tucked my tail, I went to Jewish Social Services, and in an instant, I was saved from the consequences of not eating and being left without a home. I realized then I was Ruth. Ruth, the marginalized; Ruth, the convert; Ruth at the intersection of so many identities and vulnerabilities and fears. Ruth the gleaner, the forager, the searcher for a life beyond her heartbreaking station.
Food insecurity is a heritage as well as a condition. Over 40 million Americans are currently food insecure. It’s living paycheck to paycheck, living in food deserts with little consistent access to adequate food and nutrition; food insecurity haunts the richest nation on earth. Food insecurity isn’t just a side effect of the pandemic; it is the consequence of Native removal, the enslavement of Africans, the ghettoization of immigrants, systemic racism and little inflected cruelties on the working poor that make eating, and eating healthy, choices rather than givens. I was not alone; we are a whole nation of Ruths, waiting to glean, waiting for our neighbor to end our dance with this most humiliating of plagues.
One day we will have parks full of gardens in which to forage fruits and vegetables and herbs…
We will reduce food waste and donate food as a general practice.
We will pay meals forward and send plates to our neighbors again…
We will give until no one needs to glean.
To download the full Passover supplement, which includes ten authors and ten artists responding to ten modern plagues, please click here.
Dwelling in a Time of Plagues is a Jewish creative response to real-world plagues of our time. Collectively, the commissions in this constellation of art projects around North America grapple with contemporary crises: the global pandemic, institutional racism, xenophobia, ageism, forced isolation, and the climate crisis. Dwelling is generously supported by CANVAS.
Michael W. Twitty is a noted culinary and cultural historian and the creator of Afroculinaria, the first blog devoted to African American historic foodways and their legacies. Twitty has appeared throughout the media, including on NPR’s The Splendid Table, and has given more than 250 talks in the United States and abroad.