In 1908, there was no sparsely decorated webpage with a blinking cursor silently begging to answer every stupid question that had ever decided to staycation in your brain. So when New York Times reader F.S. Shaw wanted to know the know the heights of the Eiffel Tower and the Singer Building in order to settle a bet, his best option was sending a letter to the newspaper. When fellow subscriber David Levy was curious about the population of Salt Lake City, he did the same, as did the person who just wanted to know how Benedict Arnold’s descendants were doing. Eventually, the answers appeared in a column in the fashion and society section, forbear to the Sunday Styles, next to articles about the Long Branch dog show, the fine weather at Bar Harbor, and diatribes against the dearth of small hats this season. It was called “Queries from the Curious and Answers to Them.” It was mail-order Google for the exceptionally patient.
Aware of this urgency, indigenous communities throughout North and South America are in the process of reclaiming their language, arts, seeds, knowledge, and cuisine. Those of us committed to the indigenous food movement are tapping into the wisdom of our ancestors — and using today’s technology to research and recover much of what was lost or destroyed. By sharing our research, as well as our elders’ wisdom, we are working together to bring something larger than any single one of us to the plate. This is not a revolution or reclamation; it is an indigenous evolution.
In 1981, before full-scale gentrification, before mass incarceration, the city seemed starkly drawn in black and white. When a young Harlem humorist on the uptown 3 train performed the “magic” act of making every white passenger disappear at Ninety-sixth Street, I felt tried and found guilty of whiteness. Our friend Jon Justice, who that summer had Thomas Pynchon’s “V.” stuffed into the back pocket of his corduroys, was mugged at Grant’s Tomb, where he shouldn’t have been. I was aesthetically attracted to cities but morbidly afraid of being shot. In New York, Amsterdam Avenue was a sharp dividing line, and I stood on the east side of it only once, when I made the mistake of riding a C train to 110th and walking home from there. It was late afternoon and nobody paid attention to me, but I was light-headed with fear. Deepening my impression of menace were the heavy, light-blocking security gates on our windows and the police lock in our entry hall, its steel rod anchored to the floor and angling up to a slot on the front door. I associated it with our next-door neighbor, an elderly white man with raging senile dementia. He would pound on our door or stand on the landing, wearing only pajama bottoms, and asseverate, over and over, using a vile epithet, that his wife was having relations with black men. I was afraid of him, too, and I hated him for naming a racial division we liberal kids accepted in silence.