For dinner last night we ate brown rice, soy-glazed tofu,
and raw kale massaged with organic olive oil; tomorrow night I’ll do something
with the delicata squash from our farm share. I am the home-ground spelt-flour
bread baker, the organic-arugula lady; I am probably most famous for a recipe I
once published called “Crack Broccoli.” But
tonight? Tonight we’re eating chicken wings at the local sports bar.
Is there a case to be made for it, beyond my lifelong love
of chewing crispy, buffalo-sauced meat from the bones? “Do you think this is locally-sourced chicken?” my 9-year-old
Birdy asks, like she’s either a spokesperson for sustainable agriculture or in
an outtake from Portlandia. “Oh,
honey, I seriously doubt it,” I have to say. But my beer arrives, the size of a barrel—like it has been filled
from the very tap of Niagara itself—and, crammed in among the hard-drinking college students and happy-hour
revelers, all my worries are washed away.
Here is where we all get to do what we like, eat what we want and be who we are.
But here’s the thing, really: I love that the kids are
learning a certain kind of suppleness in how we move through the world. It’s a
pretty basic lesson about flexibility: Usually things are this way, but not always; we are mostly that, but sometimes something different too. I know this has
more to do, ultimately, with whether I can mix it up a little for my own
pleasure—tear open a bag of Cheetos every once in awhile, say, instead of a
packet of seaweed crisps—but it doesn’t make for a bad worldview, right? Not
ambivalence, not uncertainty, just something more like an absence of dogma. We
love salad, and it’s healthy, so we eat a lot of it; we love junk food, and
it’s not healthy, so we eat it only sometimes.
“Let me guess,” our beloved, busty, college-student waitress
says. “Wings, extra-crispy, extra side of celery, large onion rings.” She bends
down a little to listen to the kids, whose orders change as they do. Ben, our
12-year-old, is in a tweenish chili-topped potato skins phase of life;
Birdy is a vegetarian, and gets cheese fries. We are healthy, well-fed people; potato
skins or cheese fries for dinner once a week is not going to permanently clog
anybody’s arteries. Plus, the price is right.
While we wait for our food to arrive, we relax in our booth
and play the dice game I keep in my bag, or we talk about math homework (Ben),
writing projects (me), or global injustice (Birdy). I’m not cooking or serving or
anticipating cleaning up, and so I am here, now, enjoying the good company of
my family, even as my husband Michael eyeballs one or more of the dozen TVs that are
showing a dozen games of baseball or football or hockey. I don’t care. Here is
where we all get to do what we like, eat what we want and be who we
are—unlabeled, unconstrained, smudged with sauce and smiling. In the big
picture, that feels healthy enough.