A gift from God


I consider all food a gift from God, but when you go into your garden and pick things you’ve grown yourself, it seems an occasion for extra gratitude: free food from the ground.




Those of my friends and family who are of the atheist/agnostic tradition look at such things as an outgrowth of evolution, which is fine; on one level, that’s correct. But seeing such bounty merely in such terms leaves me with a sense of emptiness, of incompleteness. If there’s nothing but random chance and selective breeding and survival of the fittest, then there’s no one to thank for these gifts.

One take on gratitude was famously given by “Charlie Anderson” in the movie Shenandoah, played by James Stewart:

“Lord, we cleared this land. We plowed it, sowed it, and harvest it. We cook the harvest. It wouldn’t be here and we wouldn’t be eating it if we hadn’t done it all ourselves. We worked dog-bone hard for every crumb and morsel, but we thank you Lord just the same for the food we’re about to eat, amen.”

It is certain, we wouldn’t have food in the stores if it weren’t for the backbreaking and often poorly-compensated work of farmers and laborers, but if it weren’t for the sun and the rain and the soil and the seeds and the wind and the pollinators, there would be nothing at all. So I often remember to thank the Lord for the work of everyone along the supply chain that brought dinner to my table, but recognize Him as the ultimate source of all goodness.

That’s just how I roll.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Huîtres Variées

Earlier this month, I posted a brief reflection on John Howard Griffin. Often my mind floats back to his seminal book Black Like Me, nudged there by something I see, or hear, or smell – the language of the book is simple but evocative, and I have read it so often that many paragraphs are always close to the surface of my memory.

One such bit comes to mind when I think of New Orleans, which I have never visited but once, briefly, of an early morning while driving from Los Angeles to Key West in the summer of 1972. I stopped in at a little greasy spoon for breakfast, somewhere close to Interstate 10, possibly in the midst of the area destroyed by Katrina, but far from the French Quarter, which I know of only by hearsay and the Disney-esque reproductions that one sees from time to time.

Griffin wrote, “At Broussard’s, I had supper in a superb courtyard under the stars – huîtres variées, green salad, white wine and coffee; the same meal I had there in past years. I saw everything – the lanterns, the trees, the candlelit tables, the little fountain, as though I were looking through a fine camera lens. Surrounded by elegant waiters, elegant people and elegant food, I thought of other parts of town wher I would live in days to come. Was there a place in new Orleans where a Negro could buy huîtres variées?1

While I speak fluent French, I have never encountered that phrase except in Griffin’s book. I began to wonder what huîtres variées were, because I love seafood (drooling now at the thought of oyster stew and steamed clams at Joseph’s Original Cap’n Cat Clam Bar in Franklinville, NJ, or a huge plate of mixed shellfish eaten at a lakeside restaurant in Torcy, France) and because I would love to try them in honor of Griffin’s life and work. Yet the only hits on the Internet lead back to the book itself or are oblique references; no restaurant seemed to offer the specific dish, except an old menu from Ben Gross restaurant in 1966, horribly misspelled as huîtres variées cheaudes et frôids, and the Grand Hôtel de Maubeuge, on the French border close to Belgium.

I had more luck when I looked up Broussard’s – they’re still there, and it does look like a lovely place to dine.

Copyright photo viewable here.

Broussard’s courtyard by day

The dinner menu at one point offered oysters as a specialty:

Definitely oysters, and prepared in various ways. So if I were a betting man, I’d say that Griffin had something like the Gulf Oyster 2-2-2, and simply chose to give it a French name, or else back in 1961 they had something similar on the menu. Sadly, the dinner menu has changed somewhat and these are no longer featured. Perhaps a seasonal change? I’ll have to keep my eyes open in the spring and summer.

Unless someone can dig up a menu from Broussard’s of that era, we may never know. What I do know is this: I gotta get me down to New Orleans.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

1Griffin, John Howard, Black Like Me, Signet Books, 1960, p. 11

Grade-A Milk, emulsified: What’s in that stuff?

♬ Zinc Trisodium Aspartate, Sorbitol and Bisulfate; Oxide, Beta Carotine, Lactic Acid, Carob Bean ♬

So begins “Be Careful What You Eat,” a song by Warner Brothers’ Animaniacs, poking fun at the artificial nature of the food that we eat. While anyone who reads labels is aware that much of what we eat is highly processed and artificial, the depth to which our food has sunk was pushed into my face with some emphasis when we had lunch at KFC yesterday.

The perky little girl behind the counter asked if we wanted butter and honey with our biscuits, and while I was aware that what she was offering me was neither butter nor honey, I had never taken a good look at the ingredient lists. What we actually got, and what KFC has been serving for several years, was “Buttery Spread” and “Honey Sauce.” These words are red flags in themselves, just like “Juice Drink” or “Cold Pack Processed Cheese Food Product,” which are guaranteed to contain very little juice or cheese, respectively.

Interestingly enough, the ingredients for these little delights are not found on KFC’s ingredients listing; it’s a dirty little secret that Yum! brands would rather, it would seem, keep buried. On the internet,  no one may know whether you really are a dog, but there is very little information which can be kept hidden; as a result, it wasn’t hard to find these:

Honey Sauce

High fructose corn syrup, Sugar, Honey, Corn syrup, Natural Flavors, Caramel Color

Buttery Spread

Liquid and Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, Water, Salt, Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, Vegetable Mono and Diglycerides, Soy Lecithin, Sodium Benzoate (A Preservative), Natural and Artificial Flavor, Beta Carotene (Color), Vitamin B Palmitate Added. Contains Soy.

These listings sound just as bad, if not worse, than the Animaniacs song. While in and of themselves these things may not be toxic, they’re certainly not natural, and they are in no way they should be called “Butter” and “Honey.” While the issue is only sufficiently annoying for me to post a mini-rant here, I wouldn’t be surprised if some lowlife attorney hungry for billable hours were able to scare up a client willing to bring a case against Yum! for misrepresentation.

The lesson here is that the more processed the food, the less healthy it is.

One of these days, I may just start taking my own advice again.

The Old Wolf has spoken.