A Good Meal Is Strong Magic
It’s certainly not unusual for American girls to have complicated and sometimes difficult relationships with food. Rhonda, the 14 year-old protagonist of my novel The Earthquake Machine, is no exception.
Rhonda escapes her devastating family situation by running away while on a river rafting trip on the Rio Grande River. She swims across the river to Mexico, and with the help of a peyote-addled bartender, transforms her appearance so that she can “pass” as a Mexican boy named Angel. She then heads south into interior Mexico in search of her family’s former gardener Jésus.
Rhonda/Angel quickly determines that she must starve herself so that her body won’t develop into womanly curves that will give away the fact that she is female. So with an iron-willed determination, she refuses the tempting foods she encounters on her journey. She walks past taco vendors selling delicious nopalitos (cactus) and mango aqua fresca. No matter how delicious the food she encounters on her journey, or how she swoons with hunger, she takes care to eat very little.
When Rhonda/Angel teams up with Las Verduras, a group of female bandits who disguise themselves as men so that they will be taken seriously when committing robberies, she finds comfort in the company of other women who sometimes pretend to be men. But when Las Verduras encourage Rhonda/Angel to taste all the delicacies of Oaxaca: pan de cazon, a thick pancake with fish and spicy tomato sauce; the little corn pizzas called panuchos; platters of enchiladas covered in mole; and even chapulines (fried grasshoppers), Rhonda/Angel drifts away from Las Verduras to continue on her search for her Jésus.
When Rhonda/Angel finally finds Jésus, it is his mother Mama who convinces her to let go of pretending she is a boy, and go back to eating. Mama shows Rhonda/Angel the fallacies of her beliefs about food, gender and even cooking. When Rhonda doesn’t want to learn the “women’s work” of cooking, Mama says :
“I know, I know. You think I’m backwards. But women with new-fangled ideas have forgotten what it is that gives women power. A good meal is like a prayer, a gift, a spell. It’s strong magic.” Mamá tapped her fingertips against her heart. “It is a subtle power and not one many understand anymore. And I see how you’ve tried to become strong by not eating. But you have it wrong. It is food that makes you a woman, and being a woman that gives you strength.” Mamá slapped her fat hip to make her point and laughed and fussed at Angel to pay attention now, because she was going to show her how to make chile rellenos.
Thanks for sharing your food for thought, Mary!
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