Archive for Wednesday, May 7, 2008

12 years of food for thought

May 7, 2008

I always knew this moment would come, eventually, and that I would find myself writing my most difficult column. "Kitchen & Garden" has sprouted from my keyboard every week for more than 12 years - in the neighborhood of 650 columns - but the time has come to till it under and plant something new.

When I began writing this in 1995, I was given license to expand a food column into one that also discussed vegetable gardening, which was my passion. Preparing and eating food is one thing; growing it deepens the relationship. I insisted that a column about cooking would tell just part of the story, but I was uncertain whether readers would agree.

As it happened, this combination resonated with those who gardened as well as those who didn't. One week led to the next, and it just kept going.

Devoted vegetable gardeners, my compatriots who have callused hands and proudly wear dirt under their nails six months of the year, have maintained a conversation with me since the beginning. Many of them know far more about gardening than I ever will, but our shared pastime provided common ground.

Most surprising was the response of non-gardeners. I have been touched, time and again, when people have stopped me to say they hadn't picked up a hoe since they worked in their grandparents' garden decades ago, but they still read my column. For them, "Kitchen & Garden" brought back fond memories.

People who have never gardened and never intend to have been another reader contingent. For them, the column has been an opportunity to experience gardening vicariously, while keeping the fingernails clean. I have been so very happy to oblige.

I have thought of all of these people as I worked in my garden over the years and contemplated topics for columns. When I have headed to the den each weekend to write, my readers have followed me there.

There's no question that eating is an act of communion. When we break bread with family and friends, we perform a ritual that unites us with others. Gardening brings the process full-circle, connecting us not only with those who share our bounty but also with nature. For me, writing this column also has been an act of communion, a sharing of passion with those willing to reciprocate.

Deciding to give it up was not easy. I began thinking about it last year, about the time I conceded the need to re-establish my vegetable garden in a different location. Shade trees nearby had extended their reach and erosion had created drainage problems. The old plot no longer worked and it was time to start over.

In many ways, the two decisions sprang from the same realization.

If you don't garden yourself, support your local growers. If this column has had a mission the past 12 years, it's been to celebrate the wonder of fresh food in a consumer economy that promotes packaged and frozen.

My readers and I know better.

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