OnStage: Ritual Feeding
Women and Food makes metaphoric and literal sense.
Thursday, March 17, 2005
‘It taps into so many metaphors,” says Jennifer Lagier through bites of sushi. “You’re talking about things like appetite, nourishment, hunger, emotion.”
We are sitting at the Shogun Restaurant on Main St. in Salinas with fellow poet Maria Garcia Tabor talking about “Women and Food,” the long-running poetry reading/art installation, and…eating. Between bites, Lagier and Tabor riff on the recurring themes that arise in poetry about women and food.
“Women were traditionally the food preparers and providers,” says Lagier, who recently published a poem in an anthology of female poets called Don’t Piss Off The Cook. “I come from an Italian-American background, we kept our culture—our stories—alive through recipes.”
In her poem “Mangia Syndrome,” Lagier writes, “Even our religion/ revolves around feeding/ reveres multiplication/ of fishes and loaves/ celebrates communion/ where we kneel/ eat the body of Christ. Sensing hunger/ a dying Italian woman,/ would immediately revive/ imbued with a reason for living/ rise up from her sickbed/ set the table, toss a salad/ resume compulsive cooking.”
“Recently my mother tells me she wants me to write about her cookbook,” Lagier says. “She doesn’t use this cookbook for recipes, she uses it as a filing system. It’s 12 inches thick with rubber bands around it…she’s left it to me in her will.”
Tabor laughs with her mouth full, understanding perfectly.
“Women have maintained power in the household from the kitchen,” she says, swallowing. “My mom was a stay-at-home mom and she ruled the household from the kitchen. Yet this culture has told us not to eat, this support—our power—is being undermined by society.”
“For young girls who are victims of anorexia,” Lagier says. “Controlling the appetite is the one area where she can still control. For some girls it’s a way of stalling womanhood, of remaining a child. When I was a teenager, I refused to eat. In high school I got so thin that the only way I could keep my clothes on was to safety pin them together.”
“Have we talked about food and sex yet?” Tabor asks. “That’s a big one. Look at food advertisements—food is replacing sex. These commercials are very seductive.”
“The table is like a metaphor for the relationship,” Lagier says. “It symbolizes a renewal. Who do you invite to your table? Who do you exclude from it? That’s a very intimate act. The breaking away and coming together of new relationships.”
“We come together for food,” Tabor says. “In a lot of my poems, food is a metaphor for sex and sensuality.”
For instance, “El Melón (The Melon),” in which Tabor writes, “She is round in all the right places: hips, breasts. /Sweet, you kiss the fullness of her lips /wet like the juice from a melon, it drips on your chin./ Sticky drops, she licks your chest—you, paradise; she /Eve eating fruit with a grin.”
“I’m dealing with menopause and the aging process in a lot of my poems,” Lagier says. “Image, appetite, body changes, anger. The whole process is reminiscent of puberty, these confusing shifts I have no control over, I can’t understand. I keep hoping that after a hot flash I’ll become a butterfly or something. Instead I just become sweaty.”
The first “Women and Food” reading, held at Seaside City Hall in 1996, was organized by Donna Wobber and Susan Hoffman. Since then the event has happened “sporadically.” It hasn’t happened in two years, according to Lagier, who took over the organization when Hoffman moved away and Wobber found herself too busy to do it. “Although one year we got ambitious and did it twice,” Lagier says.
Each “Women and Food” reading includes a one-evening-only art installation, called “The Table of Life,” featuring symbolic place settings made by the poets. Lagier describes the concept as a local version of Judy Chicago’s famous installation “The Dinner Party,” which included place settings devoted to famous feminists, notable women and metaphoric concepts like The Goddess Within.
“One year, when Bonnie Gartshore was in chemotherapy, she had a place setting with a TV monitor,” Lagier says. “She had plastic utensils, paper napkins, and her reporter’s notebook. She was very no-nonsense. Very down to earth. When it was her turn to read, we popped the tape in and there she was in full frame. It was so much fun to watch the audience interact with her.”
Lagier and Tabor are particularly excited about “Women and Food 2005” because of the diversity of the 13 women invited to read, a list which includes Laura Bayless, Kim Ly Bui Burton, Janet Fujimoto, Diana Garcia, Susan Hoffman, Lagier, Angel Look, Jerraldine Masten Hansen, Gabriella Gutierrez y Muhs, Tabor, Illia Thompson, Patrice Vecchione, and Donna Wobber.
It’s a list that reads like a full menu. Bring your appetite and something to share because, according to Lagier, an additional place will be set at the table for audience participation.
“Women And Food” takes place Friday, March 18 at 7:30pm, Monterey Peninsula College, Lecture Forum 102, 980 Fremont St., Monterey. Donations from this event will benefit the Monterey County Food Bank. 758-1523 or womenandfood.net.