"Shut Up, You’re Gonna Love ‘Em" Stuffed Mushrooms
Every year, every holiday, there are stuffed mushrooms. Often, there are three different kinds (communication is not characteristic of my family). The above is my maternal grandmother’s recipe, without the ground sausage. As the matriarch and the oldest, most experienced cook in the family, she is the first person you ask if you need recipes or advice about cooking and baking. If you don’t ask her, you’ll hear about it later from the back end of a wooden spoon. The holidays were always spent at grandma's house, but now that she's in her eighties, she has decreed that someone else has to make the bird because she can't lift it anymore. My mom and two aunts couldn't be more pleased with this turn of events since they always wanted to have their own family traditions. They were under the misguided notion that maybe, just maybe, my grandma would take turns going to their house for the holiday. Unfortunately, this isn't how things went. Instead, my mom usually makes the turkey and stuffing and has to haul it over to grandma's house; Aunt Ginger makes the mashed potatoes and salad; and Aunt Mary Ann brings the dessert. They all make their own version of stuffed mushrooms. None, according to Grandma, is as delicious as her own.
As is the usual custom, the women in our family are relegated to the kitchen as much as the men are relegated to the sofa. In the words of my grandmother, “they just get in the way”. This practice used to annoy me because I thought that the men were being chauvinistic, but I have come to believe that it's a control device orchestrated by my dear, old Gram. I believe she actually likes it that way.
My grandmother lived in poverty for much of her childhood and often didn’t get enough to eat. Her own mother died at thirty-four leaving behind five children and a husband who couldn't take care of them. The two youngest boys were taken away from the family and lived in foster care for ten years. She still cries when she tells the story for her hunger is a complicated issue. She equates hunger with emptiness, sadness and anger and will not let any of her children or grandchildren face that same despair. She often overfeeds her family to compensate for what she was lacking when she was growing up. Yet, at the same time she is ordering "Mangia!", and handing us a mound of pasta al dente, she will pat our behinds and tell us that “you put on a few.” Societal depictions of “thin as beauty” are not lost on my grandmother. She reads, watches television and peruses supermarket tabloids only to see time and again thinness equated with beauty. Perhaps unknowingly she is giving her family members mixed signals and potentially serious complexes.
I have found it very difficult to speak candidly to my grandmother about the way she views healthful eating and comfort and it is especially hard to try and communicate to her that thinness does not equal beauty. I understand that my grandmother has had traumatic life experiences and who am I to question her actions. She is as well known for her meatballs as she is for her stubbornness. For example, trying to explain to her why I have chosen a vegetarian lifestyle is troublesome. Every visit without fail, I am offered some sort of meat dish and scolded when I refuse it. It would be unthinkable to say, “Well, Gram, I am just trying to not take part in the ‘American death ceremony’ like the rest of you.”
In Notzake Shange’s culinary memoir, If I Can Cook/You Know God Can, she speaks about a friend, Yvette Smalls', choice to eat a meat-free and dairy-free diet and deny the “American death ceremony” which relies on artery clogging, toxic chemical infused foods. In an effort to resist the “American death ceremony”, I choose not to include meat in my version of the stuffed mushroom appetizer. Yet to leave out the parmesan cheese would be a sacrilege, according to my grandmother. As a feminist who is trying to consciously become healthier, conserve more, consume less and hopefully in turn lessen my reliance upon oppressive behaviors, I believe feminism should start on my plate. Eco-feminists understand that nature and people, especially women, are interconnected and both have been oppressed. Maintaining a vegetarian diet reduces health risks, lessens animal suffering, protects the environment and can even help feed people throughout the world. If I wish to not oppress nature further or be speciest, I must be aware and make an effort not to rely on meat as a staple in my diet. My family would eat the mushrooms without it and maybe, if I'm lucky, not even notice a difference.
In purchasing the ingredients, I researched the local natural and organic food store. After checking my wallet, I realized that Price Chopper would have to do instead. As much as I would have liked to purchase locally grown mushrooms and organic cheese, it is significantly more expensive and I just don’t have the extra money at this point in my life. It would be helpful if the federal government would assist the local growers somehow and allow for natural foods to be less expensive and more accessible. However, from Vandana Shiva’s book, Stolen Harvest, it is apparent that American big business and the government are more concerned with making profits at the expense of
Shange, Notzake. If I Can Cook/You Know God Can. Boston: Beacon Press, 1998.
Shiva, Vandana. Stolen Harvest: the Hijacking of the Global Food Supply. Boston: South End Press, 1999.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. http://www.peta.org