My recollection is that in my D.C. days I lived pretty much on Roy Rogers fried chicken and fries, varying it with the occasional burger.
This recollection is certainly erroneous. I was baking bread regularly, so I must have made the occasional grilled cheese. I’d learned how to make an omelet, there was no shortage of canned soups and frozen dinners at the supermarket, and besides, how difficult is it to boil up spaghetti and pour sauce on it?
But you get the point: cooking was not my forte. No surprise there: neither my mother nor either of my grandmothers was much of a cook. I learned very little at home beyond how to heat up TV dinners, add hamburger to Hamburger Helper, and make slice-and-bake cookies. A big treat in our house was getting carryout from the Kentucky Fried Chicken two towns over.
Once I went off to college, my horizons expanded. I discovered pizza. I thought Spam and Velveeta were exotic. (My romance with Spam and Velveeta didn’t last, but I still love pizza.) Maybe the best part of college was the cafeteria. All I had to do was show up and eat. If there were a communal cafeteria on Martha’s Vineyard, I would probably sign up in a heartbeat.
The burgeoning women’s liberation movement taught me empathy for my mother. Having to prepare two or three meals a day for four kids and a husband is still my idea of hell. Check out “A Kitchen of My Own,” another one of the “Winter Rental” sonnet sequence I wrote during my first year as a year-round Vineyarder:
Something changed my first year on the Vineyard, and I was aware of it changing. For one thing, there were no fast-food joints on the Vineyard. A huge battle ensued when McDonald’s tried to set up shop here. This was only in part due to Mickey D’s business practices and lamentable food quality. Rather, it was one of those Manichaean struggles where the survival of “the character of the island” was said to be at stake. Let McDonald’s in and all is lost. Keep McDonald’s out and we are saved.
This is almost complete hogwash, of course, but we love to frame some issues as epic battles for the soul of the island. The establishment of the regional high school was one such. The backwash was still reverberating when I arrived, 25 years after it happened. Islanders [sic] have very long memories.
So was the fight against replacing the four-way stop at the intersection of Barnes Road and the Edgartown–Vineyard Haven Road with a roundabout. I was heavily involved in that one, and from my frequent blog posts about it — type “roundabout” into this blogsite’s search bar and you’ll get a bunch of links; “Roundabout TV” might be my favorite — you can tell I was caught up in the epic aspect of the battle. For me it was less about roundabout vs. four-way stop than about the state stuffing its priorities down our throat and about the unwillingness of most island decision-makers to look a gift horse in the mouth, but still — on one level it was absolutely a battle for the soul of the island.
There is no McDonald’s or any other fast-food franchise on Martha’s Vineyard, but one still occasionally sees roadside litter from one of them, presumably imported from the other side of Vineyard Sound.
I’ve even heard of people stocking their freezers with Big Macs, and when I travel off-island, I often hit the Burger King on Route 28 in Falmouth. (One of my claims to fame is that I have never in my life eaten a McDonald’s hamburger, and now I feel duty-bound to keep the record going. I am, however, very fond of Sausage Egg McMuffins.)
It took more than the absence of fast food to transform me into — well, not exactly a cook, but someone capable of feeding herself fairly well. If I could eat out several times a week, I would happily do so, but even the low- to mid-range restaurants are expensive and most of them are nothing to write home about. I’d eat up (literally) a year’s worth of disposable income in a month if I tried it.
I do manage to have breakfast at the Black Dog Café every couple of weeks with one friend or another. Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day and I like hanging out with friends, so $12 every two weeks is well worth it.
One of the ongoing epic battles on the Vineyard these days has to do with “island grown” food. On the one hand, Vineyard people have fed themselves with island-grown produce and meat for many generations — like they had a choice? On the other, a quick review of the price of land and the cost of living should suggest that the devotion to “island grown” is more than symbolic than practical, and when anyone invokes “the rural character of the island,” I suspect that for them “rural character” is something you view from the road.
If someone proposed a McDonald’s franchise on the Vineyard, I’d probably oppose it. Burger King or Wendy’s are a whole ’nother matter — I haven’t taken a vow against burgers from either of them.