Cycle 12 – Item 163
17 (Thu) June 2021
Olives and Slices of Strongly Flavored Sausage
-Changgok, Sujeong, Seongnam, Gyeonggi, Republic of Korea-
Newbery 100 Medals, 100 Meals (51) (see also 100 NEWBERY M&Ms)
While reading the 100 books that have been awarded the annual Newbery Medal since 1922, I will also attempt to create one dish for every book, a dish that is directly referenced in or indirectly inspired by the events of the book. Food plays a strong role in many of the stories; not surprising as the characters in most of the books are faced with adversity of some sort, including poverty, so they’re often very hungry and thus grateful whenever they get a bite to eat – as we all should be at every meal (i.e., give us this day our daily bread). The dishes will be featured as posts on Give Me This Day.
I, Juan de Pareja (1966) by Elizabeth Borton de Treviño. The book is about Juan, a slave boy who grows up in the household of Spanish master painter Diego Velásquez, eventually to be set free and become a painter in his own right – based loosely on the story of real-life Juan de Pareja.
As a story per se, it was okay. Juan’s positive attitude keeps the narrative moving at an upbeat pace, rolling towards an inevitable happy ending.
However, when read with a modern eye, the book is terrible in its forgiving portrayal of slavery. As if to suggest that slavery wasn’t so bad, because many slaveowners, like Diego, were kind to their slaves, even to give them freedom; because some slaves, like Juan, were better off in captivity because they ultimately came out ahead. A recent article in The New York Times concerning an upcoming movie about the 2019 mosque shootings in New Zealand, which apparently focuses not on the victims but rather on Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s response, refers to this kind of thing as “white saviorism” (see Hollywood Take on Christchurch Massacre Provokes Anger in New Zealand). The article also refers to the notion of “racial reconciliation fantasy.” Tellingly, the subtitle on the cover of I, Juan de Pareja describes the book as “The story of a great painter and the slave he helped become an artist” – when in fact the story is not about Diego.
“Tell me,” I stuttered, “is Master good? Is he kind? Will he beat me? Oh, what will happen to me here?”
“You will be healed and washed and given new clothes. You will never be beaten again.”
“But Master, what will he do with me?
“I am the master, Juanico. I will take care of you. You will learn to help me.”
A secondary issue is the matter of cultural appropriation. The author was born Elizabeth Borton in Bakersfield, California. She married a Mexican man, hence the Spanish surname appendage. Her son was a painter, who first told her the story about Juan de Pareja. Beyond that, she had no connection to Juan de Pareja or Diego Velásquez or Spain.
At one point in the story, Juan travels with Diego to Italy.
“Let us take some refreshment,” Master said, and we sat at a small outdoor table. A serving maid brought us wine and olives and slices of strongly flavored sausage.
As noted in my review of Kira-Kira, one critical detail that tends to be missing in books written by White American authors about other cultures – at least the early Newbery books (pre-1970s) – is food. The absence of food is especially glaring when the book takes place in a culture rich with cuisine, such as China – Young Fu on the Upper Yangtze (1933) (11.348 Beggars’ Food) – or Spain – Shadow of a Bull (1965) (11.360 Jamón Serrano). The idea of featuring food likely never even occurred to the authors, coming from mid-20th-century America, where and when food wasn’t really a big deal.
Even though the author didn’t seem to care, I tried to realize the refreshment with some degree of authenticity. Imported actual Italian green olives by Madama Oliva (excellent). Locally produced Italian-style “cacciatore” sausage by Johncook Deli Meats (good, though not that strongly flavored, whatever that means). Imported Italian-origin California-carbonated pinot grigio by Babe (okay). With the deepest respect, I dedicate the meal to Juan.
(See also BOOZE)
(See also GLOBAL FOOD GLOSSARY)