Thursday, June 5, 2014


I started this post on Tuesday night, June3, right after I got back from a meeting of the Women's Culinary Network, our end-of-season annual potluck. This year was different, because it was also our last meeting.The organisation, begun 23 years ago by Nettie Cronish and three other women who knew that they wanted to provide a supportive networking environment for women working in food, is now winding up.

Women, and young men too, do still need support and mentoring as they try to find their way and hone a career in food. But now there is the internet, with FB and Twitter and just plain old email, all useful tools for staying in touch and cross-connecting. Women in the food world are less relatively disadvantaged than they were twenty plus years ago, so a successor organisation would not need to be "women's", it could just be The Toronto Culinary Network.

In the meantime, as we see what people need and want, it's a good moment to acknowledge the hard work and good creative intentions of the founders and early members. And we should take pride in the fact that the WCN has been brave enough to close down rather than trickling into sad reproaches about change. It's a real sign of health, this preparedness to move forward.

Most things in this world, human creations and mother nature too, have their cycles of birth and growth and change and eventual subsidence. We all know this, but I for one tend to forget it and to cling.

It's just hard to accept change sometimes, even when beautiful examples of it unfurl before our eyes in our parks and gardens and tree canopies these last weeks of spring. The harsh winter seems to have pushed the plant world into extreme responses, a sort of "flourish or die."  The tall chestnut trees, for example, that line the streets in my neighbourhood, are loaded with "candles" tall lightly fragrant blossoms, more loaded than I have ever seen them. My friends in Grey County have had record-breaking flushes of shiitake mushrooms, the asparagus in Ontario tastes sweeter this year, and so on... On the other hand, winter cold killed many plants (including an beautiful tall rose bush of mine.

Wins and losses, and always change.

I met a friend for coffee yesterday morning and we talked about Kurdistan. She had been there two years ago and passed on names of contacts to me before I went in April. We especially talked about women there, and the patterns of life in more traditional households, where women cook and clean and tend to their families. The daily patterns provide an anchor-point, a feeling of security for everyone. The code of hospitality is very strong, so that the guest, expected or not, is offered water and tea and then food, much more generously and graciously than would happen in most North American households. I was humbled by the warmth and generosity of the men and women I met and stayed with in Kurdistan. And I wonder, as the country changes, whether people will be able to hold onto their traditional values. I hope so, for their sakes.

So this is the question: How do traditional societies make the transition to the patterns of the modern world, without losing their core values? It's a troubling problem, one that exists not only in newly modernising cultures like Kurdistan, but also in families who have left their home country and moved to North America or Europe. The parents have difficulties and distress when they see their daughters and sons adopting new patterns of behaviour; change is threatening to them. On the other hand the children are stressed because they want to honour their parents but they also want to participate in a changing world with their peers; for them change is enticing and part of growth.

All this is not news. But as time races past, marked by mother nature's evolving patterns, it's sometimes valuable to stop and think about these issues. Other people's lives are a mystery to each of us. We can only guess at the struggles or pains that people are living with, or the sufferings they may have had earlier.

This first week of June is a week of major anniversaries: Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, the start of the Six Day War in 1967; the D-Day Landings in 1944. As I think about these big turning-point events, I try to imagine what each was like for individual people who were there and participated. Somehow the passage of time can flatten the life out of events so that they become like stone statues on the our mental landscape. The reality is that they were complex, full of feeling and intensity, fear and pain and awe, and that individual human beings just like you and me were caught up in them.

Thus in this musing about accepting change I guess I am saying that when it comes to memories, it feels valuable to resist change, to hold onto memories and revisit them. If we can keep a vivid sense of our own history, and that of others, then the lessons and insights of the past can continue to live in us, even long afterward - or perhaps, especially long afterward, when we've had time to reflect on it all.

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