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 culinary historian and food writer from the Washington D.C. area. He blogs at Afroculinaria.com. He’s appeared on “Bizarre Foods America with Andrew Zimmern,” “Many Rivers to Cross with Henry Louis Gates,” and most recently “Taste the Nation” with “Top Chef“ ‘s Padma Lakshmi. HarperCollins in 2017 released Twitty’s The Cooking Gene, which traces his ancestry through food from Africa to America and from slavery to freedom, and which was a finalist for The Kirkus Prize and The Art of Eating Prize and a third-place winner of Barnes&Noble’s Discover New Writer’s Awards in Nonfiction. The Cooking Gene won the 2018 James Beard Award for best writing as well as book of the year, making Twitty the first Black author so awarded. His piece on visiting Ghana in Bon Appetit was included in “Best Food Writing in 2019” and was nominated for a 2019 James Beard Award. His next book, Rice with UNC Press is currently fresh off the presses. Koshersoul, his follow-up to The Cooking Gene, will be out in 2022 through HarperCollins. Twitty has a hit spice line based on The Cooking Gene and has a special guest appearance on Michelle Obama’s “Waffles and Mochi” show on Netflix.