The Parable of the Banana Leaf
Mark asks a question:
Take, for instance, the concept of “peasant food.” Such food is indubitably the outcome of tradition, and there is certainly something special about making it and eating it as a result, especially because of the skills that were required to develop it in the first place. But was it more sentimentally special when it was eaten almost exclusively by actual peasants because it was what they had to eat, or now, for the people who eat it and cook it even though they could eat or cook something else?
The designer Charles Eames provides a sort of answer:
There’s sort of a parable I’d like to . . . In India . . . I guess it’s a parable: In India, sort of the lowest, the poorest, the, those, those without and the lowest in caste, eat very often–particularly in southern India–they eat off of a banana leaf. And those a little bit up the scale, eat off of a sort of a un . . . a low-fired ceramic dish.
And a little bit higher, why, they have a glaze on–a thing they call a “tali”–they use a banana leaf and then the ceramic as a tali upon which they put all the food. And there get to be some fairly elegant glazed talis, but it graduates to–if you’re up the scale a little bit more–why, a brass tali, and a bell-bronze tali is absolutely marvelous, it has a sort of a ring to it.
And then things get to be a little questionable. There are things like silver-plated talis and there are solid silver talis and I suppose some nut has had a gold tali that he’s eaten off of, but I’ve never seen one.
But you can go beyond that and the guys that have not only means, but a certain amount of knowledge and understanding, go the next step and they eat off of a banana leaf.
And I think that in these times when we fall back and regroup, that somehow or other, the banana leaf parable sort of got to get working there, because I’m not prepared to say that the banana leaf that one eats off of is the same as the other eats off of, but it’s that process that has happened within the man that changes the banana leaf.
Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to get my hands on the full Norton Lecture from which this snippet is drawn. Without more context, I can’t really tell what Eames means. I’d like to hear any takes from our readers . . . otherwise I’ll just keep mulling it over.