Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Vegetable Vengence

"The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed - and hence clamorous to be led to safety - by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary"
- H. L. Mencken

It’s barely the beginning of October and since I’m in the middle of the harvest, I’m already thinking about Halloween. And that makes me think of the scary stuff. In case we run out of real scary threats, we can always fear imagined ones. What better thing to fear than an uprising and revenge of the vegetables – the very ones I am delightedly killing and eating these days of bountiful harvests. After all, what we call vegetarianism, they would call cannibalism.

I’ve been reading about this book called the “Vege-Men’s (sic) Revenge”. It was written by Bertha Upton and illustrated by her daughter Florence about 100 years ago. Generally, it’s a parable of deep injury and holy vengeance. More specifically it’s a story about vegetables fighting the imperialist farmers who invade the independent kingdom of their vegetable garden.

From the viewpoint of the vegetable insurgents, we’re in a bloody war of harvest. So, it’s no surprise that I’m finding many other eerie parallels between then and now.

Poppy, a little Victorian girl, is kidnapped by Don Tomato and Herr Carrot and extremely renditioned to the Vege-men's land, where she is denied her habeas corpus rights. Polly’s story could be read as a parable illustrating why one party in a war should not torture captives from the other party, and casting a dramatic foreshadow over today’s war, like a ghost at a wedding.

Put on trial by her kidnappers, in vain Polly complains that she was just following parental orders to clean her plate. Despite this defense, the detainee is found guilty on behalf of her entire nation of farming fools and vegetarian madmen. Polly must suffer for what we have all done to vegetables, such as chopping them up in the blades of our blenders, boiling them in fat, and burying the seeds of their descendants in the cold dark ground.

The Vegemens’ King (a stereotypically lumpy potato) demands that Pious Polly be placed in a hole in the ground to learn how to “grow.” But when all seems lost, hope appears. Although she was not represented by so much as a parsley sprig for counsel, after her sentencing, Polly is befriended by a kindly cabbage, who reassures her that she’ll merely go to sleep and have a dream when she is planted. She has no choice but to trust the Cabbage when he says her punishment will not be torture. So. Polly is planted.

When her hair sprouts from the ground, it is covered with little “poppies.” Now, it seems to me, there’s some drug use happening in this vegetable tale. While I believe this to be a heavy-handed metaphor for a morphine dream, you don’t have to take my word for it. After the poppy reference, here goes:

“A Dervish dance by color made complete,
Only a tainted whirlpool now they seem,
The whirring sound becomes the storm-wind’s scream.
The yellow light
Is blurred to sight,
‘Tis like the nightmare of a troubled dream”.

Made my head spin just to read it, very much like a never-ending disturbing nightmare about juicing vegetables in a blender. As I type this, my fingertips are stained red from the pomegranate seeds I juiced this morning. Today we live in self-created terror, prey to a sterner, less whimsical but more self-righteous god. Like, say, King Bush the Second.

Then as now, our lives depend on our harvests. Who knows who may be cut down and thrown into the fire. If you sow war, do not expect to reap peace.

1 comment:

Martha in Michigan said...

Speaking of stern King George...
Someone recently figured out that he "misspeaks" only when he is trying to sound compassionate--about kids or education or the sick or the poor. When he is in judgmental, punishing mode he never messes up. As one of my girls noted on hearing this: oh, snap!