Students and I in my classes cook together. We become responsible for feeding each other. We feed each other. We are mammals and needn’t apologize. The conversation confronts its own material preconditions. The class inches closer to consciousness of itself as a co-evolving organism of self-determining parts orchestrated through acts of care. As we cook, we talk about shared texts, we listen to music together. We enjoy each other’s company amid sharing of a material and linguistic commons. And it is good.
Time to chop herbs, peel potatoes as Sarah pulls pie from the oven. Time to prepare dinner. Sarah and I gathered leaves earlier today on our walk through the neighborhood. We arrange them now into a centerpiece. Turkey in the oven, I dip into Our History is the Future, a book about the Standing Rock uprising and the history of Indigenous resistance to US colonialism by scholar-activist Nick Estes. It’s a lot to juggle — as is every Thanksgiving. But this one is especially so, given that we’re also on the verge of becoming parents. DeBarge sings to me about dancing to the beat of the rhythm of the night, worries left behind.
My relationship to food is bound up with my discontent under capitalism. The latter arranges within me a libidinal economy, an internal punishment-reward system, an internal calculus of hours for work and time for play, with no allowance for the planning and prepping of meals. By the time I contemplate dinner each day, cooking appears difficult, time-intensive. When Sarah and I arrive home each afternoon, neither of us wants to grocery shop — so we opt to eat out at restaurants in town, despite the undesirability of most local fare. To will change, I imagine, one would have to plan. One would have to commit to a recipe and buy ingredients. One would have to anticipate one’s appetite –becoming, in a sense, known in advance. It needn’t be a chore, though. It can be as simple and as pleasurable as going to a supermarket and eating more veggies. Kim Gordon can soundtrack it with her song “Hungry Baby,” head frequented afterwards by the owl on her song “Olive’s Horn.”
By these means, we quiet ourselves temporarily to hear the speech of the birds. Ginsberg cranks up afterwards, addressing the nation by way of apostrophe. “America” appears in his poem of that name as an “absent third party.” Those of us who receive the poem find ourselves implicated in this party, just as it occurs to Ginsberg mid-poem that he is America and that he’s talking to himself. Childish Gambino uses the same mode of address in “This Is America,” speaking candidly toward song’s end, confronting listeners with the line, “America, I just checked my following list and / You mothafuckas owe me.”
On this autumn afternoon I don the role of sous chef, chop cauliflower and onions, mix with ground turmeric and paprika, the lot then brewed into a soup. My brother calls after dinner announcing wonderful news: he proposed to his girlfriend. The two are now engaged to be wed. A group-text ensues, my other family members and I all congratulating the couple, all of us filled with joy.
I wish Sarah and I to have beautiful, airy Italian bread with a lightly browned crust — so I go ahead and bake some, feeling afterwards an immediate sense of reward and accomplishment, especially while listening to bonus tracks like “Universal Mind Decoder” from The Notorious Byrd Brothers.
The Revolution proceeds in each of our lives, in the smallest of acts, scaling outward and upward, each act its own reward. Take it into the kitchen, I tell myself. Make it personal. Sometimes, as the people of Pala realize, the Revolution is as simple as following a recipe for bread. “It’s all a question,” as Huxley writes, “of being shown what to do and then practicing” (Island, p. 277). This simple technique, like a seed, contains within itself an entire method of liberation. “Not complete liberation, of course,” notes Huxley. “But half a loaf is a great deal better than no bread” (277). By these means, we begin to slip free of money’s grip.
If I were an animal among animals, I imagine I’d be a seagull. But alas, I’m not. Instead, I’m the landlocked proprietor of a botched life, hours passing unheeded. What dreams I once had of rising from this wretched state! Of course, it isn’t always wretched. I text with friends and find a book on Tai Chi in the Goodwill bins. I meet the day’s paper-grading quota and go for a run midafternoon. Alan Watts coaches me in the Taoist principle of wu-wei, which he defines as acting without forcing, “in accordance with the flow of nature’s course which is signified by the word Tao, and is best understood from watching the dynamics of water” (Embrace Tiger, Return to Mountain, p. 2). My reading for class teaches a similar lesson. We act, say the Palanese of Huxley’s Island, “to make the me more conscious of what the not-me is up to” (243). The day ends with a minor life achievement: I prepare a biga so that tomorrow I can bake my first loaf of Italian bread.
I start it right with World Psychedelic Classics 3: Love’s a Real Thing, a compilation from 2007 that has me up on my feet ready to march to the sound of Moussa Doumbia’s “Keleya.” Next thing I know, I’m watching an African movie from Senegalese writer and filmmaker Ousmane Sembène called Ceddo (1977). Like Huxley’s mynah birds, my students help to bring me to attention. I flower, I bloom. I pick up and thumb through a copy of Edward Espe Brown’s The Tassajara Bread Book. Among the rich assortment of cookbooks tossed into being by the counterculture, Brown’s is one of my favorites. Definitely a book written to and from “heads” — those of us who speak to each other throughout the ages. Sarah and I plan to create a print to hang in our kitchen based on the book’s opening poem, “A Composite of Kitchen Necessities.”
The stories we read and tell one another compose us collectively into an intersubjective multiverse linked by each consciousness holding up to the Other its mirror. Philip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly is a hard novel to end a course on, hard because it contains so many prior horizons of psychedelic-utopian possibility in the uncertainty and despair of its narrative universe. I worry that the book inspires in its readers an excess of aversion to chemical modification of consciousness. The book is too unqualified in its denunciation of drug use; the book’s fictional Substance-D operates allegorically (most vividly via its street name “slow death”) as an emblem, a universal shorthand for every drug — drugs in general. Dick leaves readers without a positive alternative to the “straight” world’s miserly, hypocritical relationship to mental health, where “sanity” equals mind-numbing adherence to pre-established norms, and all are expected to board what Margo Guryan called “The 8:17 Northbound Success Merry-Go-Round.”
I prefer to focus instead on collecting recipes for a cookbook. The cookbook was a great utopian art form of the late 1960s and 1970s, from The Grub Bag and The Tassajara Bread Book to Ant Farm’s INFLATOCOOKBOOK of 1971. To my cookbook I add a recipe for “Vegan Cream of Mushroom and Wild Rice Soup” from the Food 52 website.
As a lifetime shirker of responsibility for cooking as a necessary component of household labor, the human potential in me for communist love and compassion demands revolution, demands I spend my daily material labor-hours differently. Perhaps in so doing I can model a better mode of being. Toward that end I pull out and peruse Ita Jones’s hippie-modernist “underground cookbook,” The Grub Bag. Brad Johannsen’s other-dimensional cover art is super trippy. (For those seeking more of Johannsen’s artwork, look for copies of his book Occupied Spaces.) Jones writes to today’s reader here in the twenty-first century as if a being from a utopian future, despite The Grub Bag‘s publication almost half a century ago in March 1971. Comrades, this is the book we ought to be reading in our study groups and revolutionary sanghas. The book began as “a food column carried by the Liberation News Service,” the news service of the Movement here in the United States in the late 1960s. Jones gives us her peace brother / peace sister salute by proclaiming on the book’s back cover, “I have always been on the side of revolution, on the side of people struggling to break the chains that oppress them. I support wars of liberation. I am a mystic. I seek to penetrate the nature of nature. I am a poet. I seek meaning. I am part of a generation that exploded six years ago and my creative energy is part of that explosion.”