courgette flower, crescent moon rising
In the past 2 food columns, I’ve been writing about my history with disordered eating like it was exactly that: history & past tense. In February I was 10lbs underweight and met four out of the five diagnostic requirements for anorexia. Now, with this edition of my lil TWP food column, I need to situate this more intimately; as something that is pressed up and pulsating, synced in time with my own nervous heartbeat.
I have been ill a few times before, and I might be ill sometime again too. Like mushrooms, the little nub of this sickness is buried deep within and it pops its crescent moon head above the soil’s surface when the conditions are right. I’ve been doing therapy for ~9 months. And I’ve been growing vegetables from seed in the hopes that by nurturing them, I will nurture a connection with food again. Like, maybe if I grow it, I will love it and care for it. Idk what comes after that, but I feel like love and care are powerful as process, just in and of themselves.
In December I went back to Bangladesh; my Dad’s cousins still live in the village, and there’s 4 enormous courgette plants growing outside the bungalow they were all born in. When I visited, the courgettes were flowering; bright yellow trumpets, with frilly edges and a dark green nub at the base. My Dad’s cousin, Sethara, picked the flowers off the stalks and put them in a paper bag. She handed it to me as we left, I got in my uncle’s truck and I held it gently on my lap for the whole journey.
When Marx wrote about commodity fetishism, he was solidifying the way capitalism acts as transcendental logic. The economic value of the commodity object is more worthy than its social value. Under a capitalist logic, we perceive exchange as an economic relationship (of exchanging cash), rather than a social relationship between people; our understanding of exchange becomes a relationship between currency, commodity and market. It is not bound to place, or body or land or culture; capitalism has none of those things, and so they are peripheral to the market’s logic. In another village, 2 hours over, my Surat Dada lives in a house with clay walls and white tile floors. The roof of his house is flat, with a short brick border wall; the tops of his trees reach and bend over, casting long shadows over the dirt roof. Every afternoon he goes up and looks at them; mangoes as big as his hands & blackberries, lychees, jackfruits, papayas, guava n sour apples. The blackberries are his favourite because they’re so sweet, as fat and juicy as lychees. He’s a lifelong socialist, a card-carrying communist, he says Marx was a great man.
I don’t like talking about anorexia as an inhabited state, as a subjective experience. I like the comfort of holding it away from me, I like interrogating it as a political position, plastic or abstract, subject of anthropological study. I’m embarrassed by the way it can slip and translate to a politic of thinness; it is easier to think about things on a seismic political scale, than on the scale of an individual body. The logic of my body alone is still opaque, I don’t understand motive or intention, I can’t see my own triggers or actions. It feels easier to say: over the course of the 16th century, enclosure was the gradual process in which rich landowners used their control and influence over state processes to violently appropriate public land and expand private property ownership. This transferral saw the disappearance of the commons; land was regulated into restricted use, and instrumentalised as a profitable asset. It created a working class that was forcibly separated from the land; untethered, they moved to cities to make up a new industrial workforce, where their labour was rigidly regulated in the linear hierarchy of a profit-making company. The privatisation of common land, the transferral of countryside to the aristocracy in the creation of large estates, and the enabling of greater control over the working class in industrial cities - land and bodies are deeply related, intertwined in fate and disaster.
Marx wrote about enclosure like an economist or a political theorist would; the transformation of land from a means of subsistence into a means to realise profit on commodity markets, the subsequent creation of an industrial labour market, the shift from feudalism to capitalism - this is the political historical economic analysis. I can’t articulate the way that feels in a body, what that then does tangibly to a body or a collective psyche. It is easier for me to not talk about motive and trigger because motive and trigger feel like the wrong scale and the wrong question. I want to softly say that anorexia is a depressive state of class awareness, but it makes me laugh too much to say that sincerely. I think often about what Chris Kraus meant when she said that anorexia is the violent breaking of the chain of desire. What scale does that chain of desire work on; can it be articulated in relation to an individual or is it the size of supermarket supply chains.
Something about the conditions required to engineer pleasure as central rather than incidental // Something about cottagecore as an aesthetic vehicle of anti-capitalist yearning // Something about reclamation as malleable or liquid // Something about the city as a structure itself feels like it’s predicated on displacement, and regardless of how much I love it, I have to admit the ways in which it is painful. I water the plants at night, when north London sky is purple and hazy, and the heat is trapped below the clouds. If anorexia is commonly understood to be a mechanism for exerting control or reclaiming agency through refusal, then why is that refusal mechanism not understood as structural or collective. And I remember that Malcolm X said, ‘Revolution is based on land. Land is the basis of all independence. Land is the basis of freedom, justice, and equality.’ So maybe it makes sense to say: I don’t think the question is, ‘how are bodies connected to land in any serious tangible way’ - material or abstract. It’s ‘how could they possibly be treated or perceived separately’; what conditions make their separation plausible, how are those conditions constructed, and what is implicated in their separation.
I go out at 7am, morning sun chill on my back, and find some little green lads have munched through my mizuna. Gab tells me they are caterpillars, but I swear to god I’ve never seen a caterpillar in real life before. I scoop them, wriggling, into some Tupperware along with the last of the mizuna leaves. I give them to my little cousin, and she sings to them loudly before she goes to sleep. The next morning she sets them free in her own garden, texts me ‘i sore them leave x’. I send Seema & Amrita a photo of the new seedlings, and we hoot with joy at the thought of dinner at the same table someday soon. I promise them one day I will present them with a thali of things I have grown entirely myself. Rehana posts me seeds in little marbled envelopes; the tiny note is written in fountain pen, I tuck the seeds into soil the same day. My dad facetimes me to show me the courgettes he’s growing, and I take a screenshot when he points to the flowers. The next morning I send that screenshot to Maleeha, and she sends me back a video of her front garden; her parsley has bloomed and the wind ruffles the little white flowers, they sway like they’re dizzy in the heat. I google the shipping costs of posting Gab a jar of chutney made from the coriander growing in the shed, but I want to pass it in person, hand to hand. There are 3 small apple stalks growing in a rough clay pot on the windowsill above my desk; they’ll never be big enough to grow into a full sized tree, but I think they are a beautiful monument.
When we get out of my uncle’s truck, it’s blue dark and the heat has risen up past the clouds. I hand the paper bag of courgette flowers to my Surat Dada’s wife; she’s from Pabna, a village near the border, just shy of the Padma as it courses down from India towards the delta. She tells me this is an old family recipe, and when I ask her what spices she’s putting in it, she laughs and says she can’t tell me, because I’m not from Pabna. When she’s finished, I hold the battered courgette flower in my hand; crisp surface and light grease, boiling hot and spongey against my fingertips. When I put a picture of it on instagram, I caption it ‘my favourite’, because it feels true. My youngest aunt tells me ‘it was your dada’s favourite too’. And I have never loved anything more than that handful of food, I have never loved anything more.
the previous 2 food columns are:
fun reading related to this column: