What Penny De Los Santos saw just as she was about to photograph the single meal she'd traveled thousands of miles over several times zones to capture. The city's lights went out.

“Food is important,” I said to the audience at Cleveland Public Library last Thursday night. It was my first line and it got a laugh. I was surprised and encouraged. When I say that to most groups of Americans, they look at me they way cows look up from their grazing. Not even a moo.

As I said, it got a laugh, and I was surprised, but I shouldn’t have been because they care about food and they knew why I needed to say it. Because for decades we forgot. We stopped paying attention, because food was everywhere. It still is. But now that it’s making us sick, now that the production of it is fouling our land and our oceans, debasing the animals we eat for food and the workers who handle them, we’ve started paying attention.

Photographer Penny De Los Santos and chef Dan Barber came to Cleveland to talk about food. Food is, of course, so important that you can’t get at it all in one story. Not even Dan Barber, who’s story-telling skills are uncommonly compelling. Dan talked about whole grains, wheat and somehow made you feel like he was telling a happy/sad story about the whole history of cooking.

I asked Penny to recount her Ramadan story at the Thursday night event. It’s about how food connects us; she wrote about it on her site and I’m reprinting it below. See this and more of her great pix here. Watch her tell the story at TedxAustin, linked to below, about how she actually got this image, after a sudden black out. It’s a fascinating intertwining of food, images, story, and connections. I adore Penny, and I loved meeting her. Thank you Penny for coming to Cleveland and for letting me repost your story and the image that created it.

Breaking the Ramadan Fast

by Penny De Los Santos

Saveur Magazine sent me on assignment late last year for a story they ran in their December 2008 issue. The assignment was a food feature on Iraqi refugees living and practicing their food traditions in Beirut. The situation was pretty intense for a photographer, let alone a western woman operating in a Hezbollah-run neighborhood where journalists, especially foreign ones, were prohibited and detained. My access was limited and quick as we didn’t want to draw too much attention to the Iraqi men, which could have been very dangerous for them.

The few nights I spent photographing these gentlemen were amazing. Photographically it was terrible, no electricity, not able to use flash (draws too much attention through the windows, raising suspicion with watchmen patrolling the neighborhood). But when they lit candles for their evening meal signifying the end of their Ramadan Fast it couldn’t have been better. The orange glow from the candles lit their faces just enough to give it the right amount of detail and emotion and capture the moment.

There we sat on the floor, cut up garbage bags as our table cloth, feasting on spiced chicken stew with chic peas. As I scooped up every bite with flat bread it all tasted like heaven. It was the best meal and the best table I ate at the entire trip. It was one of those moments I’ll always remember because of what it symbolized. The customs and cultural traditions of these Arab Iraqi men don’t allow me to socialize with them , not as a woman, nor as a journalist/photographer. It was my camera that allowed me access to their world. It was a great reminder of how much food can bring us together and give us something in common if only for a few hours. It’s funny how the most incredible experiences can happen in the hardest of situations.

 

TEDxAustin: Penny tells the story of capturing the above dinner.

Food. It’s important. Don’t take it for granted.

If you liked this post on Penny De Los Santos & Chef Dan Barber, check out these other links:

© 2012 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2012 Donna Turner-Ruhlman. All rights reserved

 

Share

30 Wonderful responses to “Food Is Important”

  • Dave

    Funny how extraordinary circumstances can force us to see what’s around us with new eyes. I had a similar experience once, albeit not in such an exotic locale, and it changed how I look at food forever. Thanks for sharing Penny’s story, Michael, and for the reminder of what matters.

  • Mantonat

    That’s a great photo and a great testament to the power of food and its importance in culture and family. It saddens me though that there are so many cultural restrictions that turn this sort of celebratory gathering into an odd and clandestine ritual. Not only are the men in the photo persecuted by the community in which they choose to live, but they in turn subjugate half of their population by segregating women during social and religious occasions. Underneath all of that is the lack of freedom that means even a food journalist has to sneak around in order to get basic information that we take for granted in freer countries. Is the crushing lack of basic human rights a symptom of a traditional way of life that must end if women and people of differing faiths are to experience equality? If so, would it be worth it to lose that culture of food to gain basic human rights?

  • Jen

    Thanks for sharing. Food is (should be) extraordinary, we just need to remember that.

  • lakemendota`

    Hmmm. Maybe I’m sensitive to the cow thing because I’m from America’s Dairyland and all, but are you sure people aren’t just normally looking at you with anticipation? It seems pretty dismissive of your audience–who, I would assume, is receptive to your message since they’ve come to see you speak–to liken them to complacent cattle.

  • Lynn Brown

    Food is very important, especially with the problems with obesity as well as other diseases.

  • Misty

    Also, might I add that to improve long-term health, an active lifestyle is as essential as a balanced diet. Activities that increase heart rate, like climbing stairs in lieu of escalators, have been proven to be essential to help consumers maintain weight, build and preserve strong bones, control blood pressure and reduce risk factors for heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and some cancers. Being physically active also promotes psychological well-being.

  • Rozella Jame

    Hi I am so delighted I found your blog page, I really found you by error, while I was browsing on Google for something else, Anyhow I am here now and would just like to say kudos for a incredible post and a all round enjoyable blog (I also love the theme/design), I don’t have time to go through it all at the minute but I have saved it and also added in your RSS feeds, so when I have time I will be back to read a great deal more, Please do keep up the awesome job.

  • annonce

    Enjoyed looking at this, very good stuff, thankyou . “The hunger for love is much more difficult to remove than the hunger for bread.” by Mother Theresa.

  • safe opening swansea

    Fantastic read, I just passed this onto a colleague who was doing a little investigation on that. And he really bought me lunch because I found it for him smile So let me rephrase that: Thanks for lunch!

  • HCG Drops

    Amazing blog! Is your theme custom made or did you download it from somewhere? A theme like yours with a few simple adjustements would really make my blog stand out. Please let me know where you got your design. Appreciate it

  • Alfreda

    Good write-up. I’m a regular visitor of your web site and appreciate you taking the time to maintain the excellent site. I’ll be a frequent visitor for a long time.

  • free facebook fan

    Hi, I just discovered your weblog via Bing. Your viewpoint is truly applicable to my life at this moment, and I’m really happy I found your website.

  • Google Places Optimization Service

    Hi I like your wewebsite. Do you want to visitor submit on mine sometime? In that case you should tell me via e mail or perhaps reply to this remark simply due to the fact We subscribed to announcements and can realize should you.

  • Angele

    I have recently started a blog, and the info you offer on this web site has helped me tremendously. Thank you for all of your time & work.

  • Auburn Hair Color

    Many thanks for creating the effort to discuss this, I feel strongly about this and enjoy studying a great deal more on this subject. If possible, as you gain expertise, would you mind updating your webpage with a great deal more info? It’s very useful for me.

  • Chara Waszak

    I take pleasure in, lead to I came across just exactly what I was ready for. You’ve finished my four day long hunt! God Bless an individual man. Have a good day. Bye

  • Reynaldo Jilk

    Khmer Karaoke Superstars My partner and i was recommended this amazing site by my personal cousin. I’m uncertain whether this kind of post is compiled by him while nobody in addition know these kinds of detailed with regards to my problem. You’re outstanding! Thanks! your post about Khmer Karaoke Megastars Best regards Yoder Lawrence

  • music library

    Ich bemerke jetzt in diesem Moment, dass ich deinem Blog deutlich haufiger aufrufen musste – da kommt man echt auf super Ideen

  • Kimberly Cada

    I’m unclear why but this website is launching extremely slow for me personally. Is anybody having this problem or can it be a difficulty on my own end? I’ll check back later if the problem nonetheless exists.

  • Perry Bunt

    While you’re one of the lucky ample choices, it occurs evidently, although get the fancy in the certain sought after by ly folks additional valuable you you satisfy might perhaps effectively have hard times this selected problem. pre owned or operated awnings

  • I'm a schmuck

    Great post. I was checking continuously this blog and I am impressed!
    Extremely useful information particularly the last part :
    ) I care for such info much. I was looking for this particular information
    for a long time. Thank you and best of luck.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1.  Importance of Food | Michael Ruhlman | Food News
  2.  Food Is Important | Shelterholic Now Food
  3.  For The Love Of Food | Healthy Eating Tips - Upgrade Your Healthstyle | Summer Tomato
  4.  Friday links « Show Me Eats
  5.  harbariumn
  6.  low vitamin d
  7.  facebook of sex
  8.  what
  9.  click here
  10.  she
  11.  give
  12.  bargeman arrowwood capes
  13.  lipo 6 black hers results
  14.  Bonsai
  15.  backlinks