In 1942, when wartime shortages were at their worst, the legendary food writer M.F.K. Fisher wrote "How to Cook a Wolf."
Part cookbook, part essay, this slim volume is an instruction manual on getting through the "thin days," a primer on keeping the proverbial wolf from the door. Fisher once described it as a book "about living as decently as possible with ration cards and blackouts and like miseries of World War II."
Toward that end, she advised readers on such matters as cooking food in a haybox to conserve fuel, adding bread crumbs to eggs to make them "go a lot further," and reducing the sugar in cake recipes by adding bicarbonate of soda.
We make no such sacrifices today. We can have our war and eat our cake, too! And we can bake it with a full complement of sugar.
I hadn't thought about how easily we, on this side of the globe, are coasting through the reckless war in Iraq until the other day, when I read the "Names of the Dead." A compilation of these names appears daily in the New York Times. They are the names of American service members in Iraq whose deaths were confirmed the previous day by the Department of Defense. Some days the list is longer than others. There is always a list.
On the day in question, the list was seven names long. Pablo Calderon. Erik Hayes. Jose Guereca Jr. Zachary Kolda. David Fisher. Daryl Davis. Javier Obleas-Prado Pena. This veritable melting pot of names is a testament to what is best about our country. They came from all over: Orlando, New York City, Corpus Christi, Falls Church. They died in the same place. The circumstance of their deaths is testament to our very worst.
Seven names. It doesn't take long to read them. And then the eye moves on to the next page, to a different set of names. Estancia. Hess. Coppola. Morgan. Marietta. Merryvale. These are not names of the dead, but of fine wines for sale during this, a wine merchant's 71st Holiday Season. There is no shortage of these wines, some of which fetch prices in the hundreds of dollars. Wolf at the door?
There are wines in that ad that are older than 36-year-old Javier Obleas-Prado Pena, the oldest serviceman on the Defense Department's list. There is a port for sale that has lived twice as long as Daryl Davis, who was 20 years old the day he died in Iraq.
One might argue that it is fitting that the wine still flows, that we are not expected to make sacrifices during this war. (Though we know, from the recent exchange between soldiers and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, about the sacrifices our ill-equipped troops are making.)
It was, after all, touted as a new kind of war. It was to be waged with surgical precision, with a streamlined troop presence, in record time. How long ago was it that President George W. Bush stood in front of that "mission accomplished" sign and announced the end of major combat operations in Iraq? Twenty months.
Mission accomplished? Tell that to the families and friends of the more than 1,200 Names of the Dead (plus the thousands of felled Iraqis). Tell that to the mother who refused to answer the door when a man dressed in military garb came to call.
"I immediately knew," she told a reporter. "But I thought that if, as long as I didn't let him in, he couldn't tell me. And then it -- none of that would've happened."
It had happened. A bomb in Kirkuk had killed her daughter, 19-year-old Specialist Holly McGeogh.
So this holiday season, when we raise our glasses of cheer, think about that mother who, hard as she tried, couldn't keep that particular wolf from the door. And then let's think about how to end this madness.Miriam Karmel lives in Minneapolis.
© 2004 Star Tribune