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ANNE TAYLOR FLEMING: A woman I know recently returned from a trip to Washington, D.C. She didn’t care at all about current politics or anything of that temporal nature. She was simply bone deep dazzled by her country’s capital. The White House – the monuments – the Lincoln – the Jefferson – and the Washington. The Vietnam Memorial, low slung and etched with sorrow. And the House and the Senate. She took every tour, saw every historical inch of the place and came back on a patriotic high. What a thing to be American.
Of course, it’s easy to feel that way visiting Washington. Most of us do – just as we feel that way when we see the Statue of Liberty, or the battlefield at Gettsyburg, or the Concord Bridge, or Ellis Island, with its myriad ghosts, the faces of the world come to America. Who could not be stirred in such a place — whatever the nation’s drama or trauma of the moment – whatever its errors and sins of the past? But nowhere do I feel more at home, more exhilarated, more American, more blessed, and more full of Thanksgiving than in a supermarket, one of those great, big shiny, super-stocked, supermarkets that now grace many a major and minor city and suburb right across this country. They used to feel so bland to me, so lonesome and impersonal – their aisles stocked with white bread and canned coffee and tin vegetables. But no more.
Today’s markets are sensual meccas of fresh fruit and fresh vegetables and foodstuffs from all over the world. A simple browse can remind us of what our country has become, of what our country is and has always been — a nation of immigrants, both foreign and domestic.
In this state of the art, newly revamped market, near where I live in West Los Angeles, there are aisles of ingredients for Japanese dishes and Mexican meals. There are Chinese beans, exotic fruits from all over Latin America, and chili peppers as vibrant as a Van Gogh. It’s a multicultural museum, an edible ode to a polyglot population that unlike in too many other countries peacefully coexists like the food on these shelves.
What a thing to be American. And there are also cases of prepared foods – a testament to something else we’ve become – a hard-working, hard-charging nation, a people who often don’t have time anymore to make a hot meal, a country where women and men work, and kids are scheduled to the max. So we scoop up dinner, sushi or egg rolls or tamales or roasted chickens. You name it, they’ve got it.
These mega markets are now our homemakers of yore, churning out daily meals in their elaborate kitchens. They’ll even turn you out a full tilt Thanksgiving dinner, dressing and all. I know this might strike some as heresy, a regrettable sign of our hurried times. And while I too regret the speed at which we all live, nothing at all bothers me about all this pre-made food, especially if it allows a family to sit down and dine together, which is, after all, the point of a meal, even or especially a Thanksgiving one.
And speaking of giving thanks, you cannot be in here and not think of the daily entrepreneurial thrum that keeps such place stocked day after day – all the growers and truckers and checkers – all the clockwork choreography of capitalism. And I, for one, can’t help keeping of the other people, the ones scrounging for food throughout the world, those babies with their bloated tummies — in Sudan and North Korea today – somewhere else tomorrow – of the incomprehensible magnitude of tragedy of the people of Central America. How does it happen?
How can all our bounty exist in the same world as that? It is unimaginable and embarrassing. What a thing to be an American. That’s what I feel over and over in many of these supermarkets. I make a habit of going into them wherever I am in the country, like a touchstone, a reminder, a little jolt of patriotism with my cranberry sauce or chili peppers.
I’m Anne Taylor Fleming.