Hey everyone. This post is coming to you much later than promised. I started writing it, and it just grew and grew. I almost deleted it several times, and I’m still a little unsure about hitting that Publish button. I am usually only comfortable talking about myself in short, anecdotal bursts. But I’ve also been plagued by this post, which I discovered several months ago. So here it is, a not-so-short summation of how this name change came about. (If you have no interest in my life story, please feel free to skip ahead to the last three paragraphs!)
So you may have noticed that things look a little different around here. As I mentioned several weeks ago, I decided that it was time to retire the name Petite Kitchenesse (a moniker I’d grown to dislike) and relaunch the site under a new name: Reclaiming Provincial. I’d like to take this opportunity to explain the reasons for the move and the handle I’ve chosen, and to reflect on the ways in which running this blog — with heavy influence from my past/present environments — has helped to develop my love of and approach to food.
Over the years, I’ve come to realize that my family and the area in which I was born and raised — the Schoharie Valley of upstate NY — have been, by far, the biggest influence on my present-day food choices. (This seems like an obvious connection that’s true for many people, but it was only in the past year or two that I’ve begun to see and acknowledge the evidence in my own life.) Childhood weekends were devoted to farm stand–hopping and treat-baking. If I had to pick one truth that my mother has ingrained in me above all others, it would be that a home should never be without cookies. Or popcorn. My parents’ pescetarian diet has also had an enormous influence on the types of food I gravitate towards nowadays, despite the fact that I am no longer vegetarian. My parents were never preachy about their dietary choices, and my brother and I were never taught to shun meat. My mother would occasionally prepare meat dishes for us when we were kids, although I still remember her telling me once I was old enough to safely use the stove, “if you want a hot dog, you can cook it.” (Ha!) And since our household was one in which home-cooked meals and family dinner time were considered essentials, I grew up on a diet that revolved around lots of grains and fresh, local food. Meat was more of an occasional treat, and not so much a dietary staple.
Of course, none of this actually registers with me when I’m young. There’s food on my plate. I eat it so I could go back to doing something else. College is the first time in my life when the responsibility of choosing what and what not to eat is totally on me. And I choose to be vegetarian. For no reason other than many of my new friends are vegetarian, and following suit makes an intimidating new experience that much easier. (I’m sure I had plenty of lofty reasons back then, but when I reflect back on that time now, this was the driving force.) Unfortunately, I am an extremely picky when it comes to many fruits and vegetables. Hmmm, will this be a problem? Nah, I’ll just eat pizza and pasta! I feel gross. I gain weight. It’s ridiculous. Eventually I wise up, learn that salad is my friend, and get things under control. I eat a cheeseburger my senior year to see if I’ll like it. It makes me sick (and it isn’t the greatest burger either). Vegetarianism reinforced. By this time, however, my stance on meat has gone from NO, I WILL NOT EAT THE POOR,
DELICIOUS SWEET ANIMALS to the less cavalier, more personal decision to avoid meat simply because I find it unappealing. And I considered that maybe one day, I wouldn’t feel the same way.
Fast forward a year: I have a real job, a ridiculously cheap apartment, and a lot of time on my hands. My boss at work talks a lot about food, and brings in some of the delicious things she’s made. This inspires me to start cooking at home. Because I have a real kitchen. And real paychecks that will buy food. Some things are a success. Some are definitely not. I go through this ridiculous phase where I try to substitute whole wheat flour for white flour in almost everything. (Oy, the horror of whole wheat pasta.) I start dating a guy. He’s kind of a brat, but I become somewhat enchanted by his very Italian family. My now-pescetarian diet confuses them a bit — especially the grandmothers — and we have a couple “so you don’t eat meat, but you do eat chicken, yes?” moments, but I eventually win them over with my ability to eat an astonishing amount of food. (It was so good, I would eat until I couldn’t physically take another bite.) The more time I spend with them, the more fascinated I become. The Sunday dinners. The holiday feasts. The grandparents that would smuggle meats and cheeses back from their trips to Italy. Strange little pressed tomatoes. An entire garage cleared out and devoted to sauce-making in the late summer. One grandfather sending the other a lamb at Christmas. A grandmother brings mini sfogliatelle to one party, and I can barely resist squealing with delight and stuffing them all in my face/pockets. But food only trumps brattiness for so long, and that relationship eventually comes to an end. But the charm of their food culture stays with me.
I relocate to Burlington, VT, and find myself in a unique, food-obsessed area. (Unique in the sense that I’ve never experienced anything quite like this, at least.) It is similar to home in that there is an abundance of local food. But it surprises me to find this presence in a city, and even more so because it’s not just there, but an actual focal point. Restaurants proudly advertise the farms and vendors that supply them with ingredients. Local businesses are extraordinarily supportive of each other. This comradery and excitement makes a busy (albeit small) city feel like an even smaller, tight-knit community.
Living here and being part of this community has been a source of inspiration, as well as guiding force for my own feelings towards food. The love of food here is infectious, and has led me to try many new things, including giving up my vegetarian diet. I have discovered that I am a much happier eater when free of self-imposed restrictions, and I am extremely lucky to live in a place where I have access to so many wonderful, well-made/grown/raised things — be they meaty, cheesy, leafy, or otherwise. If there is one thing that I would like to communicate through this blog, it is a love of real food, in all its forms. In many ways, we seem to have become a culture that fears food. Sugar is as addictive as heroin. Meat causes cancer. I am in no way denying that there is an element of truth behind some of this, but I do believe that we’d be better served by focusing on the value of moderation and finding understanding through our own research and experiences, rather than taking a media frenzy at face value. And perhaps reserving our hesitation and skepticism for “food” produced in laboratories, or ingredients whose names we can’t pronounce. (I promise, this is as preachy as I will ever get when it comes to food and dietary choices.) We are all different when it comes to what we choose to eat, from our tastes to allergies to moral choices. But the one thing that is truly universal is the personal connection many of us have with food, and the enthusiasm that is built upon that foundation. Our cultures and experiences may not be the same, but we still recognize that deeply seeded love for food in others. It inspires us to build connections with each other, try new things, and strengthen our own ties to the things we eat and the people who produce them. This is what truly makes food the universal language.
And so, it was the love of my own communities (both home home and new home) that inspired this name change. As I’ve grown more and more attached to my local vendors (who, in a big way, make this blog what it is), I’ve felt compelled to recognize their influence here — and I needed a name that would reflect that. I wanted to avoid the word “local,” however, since it’s become a bit of a buzz word lately. At a bit of a loss, I turned to the thesaurus. And there was that lovely sounding word “provincial,” with all of its negative connotations. J and I had a brainstorming session, and I continued to lament the definition. He jokingly said, “maybe you should reclaim it.” We laughed about that, brainstormed for a bit longer, then gave up. But later on, I decided to look up the etymology of “provincial,” just out of curiosity. It seems that while once a word meaning “pertaining to a province” or “of the small towns and countryside,” it eventually picked up the negative “unsophisticated/narrow/rude” definitions around the mid-18th century, when urban/city-living was just beginning to be fueled by the growth of modern industry. “This will not do!” I decided. Some of the most capable, self-sufficient people I have ever met have been “country folk,” and applying negative attributes to those who have chosen to live a simple life just didn’t seem fair. This sealed the deal. The blog had its new name.
At last, I have reached the end of this (far too lengthy) post. For those of you that made it through, thanks for reading! I would also like to remind everyone that the PK facebook fan page will eventually no longer be in use, as I am not allowed to change the name. So give the new Reclaiming Provincial page a “like,” and I look forward to seeing you all here on the new site.