Magazine article The New Yorker

The Talk of the Town: Will You Mulch Me?

Magazine article The New Yorker

The Talk of the Town: Will You Mulch Me?

Article excerpt

The week before last, several dozen members of the country's food establishment received a curious wedding announcement via E-mail.

"This Saturday, July 28, at 3:00 P.M. I will wed my mulchmate Kate McDermott, who I met on the soil, compost, and mulch forum," wrote Jon Rowley, a fifty-seven-year-old seafood expert in Seattle who, in the past several years, has turned his attention from surf to turf and become obsessed with gardening.

"The altar will be at one of the compost stations at the Interbay P-Patch Community Garden, where I am currently the Site Coordinator," he wrote. "Making a Wedding Compost will be a symbolic part of our vows. Guests will participate in this miracle of renewal by contributing 'brown,' 'green,' or 'brown and green' ingredients for the compost."

Rowley explained that the contributions would become humus for a commemorative planting of a Wedding Rose. "I would be honored to receive your leftover lobster shells, vacuum-cleaner bags, coffee grounds, poached-salmon carcass, pet llama's manure, banana peels, dryer lint, moldy vegetables from your fridge."

The request left a number of professional connoisseurs stumped. What, they wondered, constituted wedding-worthy garbage? For guidance, some studied E-mail updates that Rowley was sending out as new offerings arrived. Bill Rice, a food writer for the Chicago Tribune, had made a luminous mosaic from his leftovers, with recipe attached ("one skin of Wisconsin natural smoked trout, cut up . . ."). Julia Child had sent a single, perfect banana peel, gift-wrapped. Corporate donations--spent hops and grains from a local brewery, pulp from several local juice bars--had also been carted into Rowley's living room, where his fiancee, Kate McDermott, a forty-eight-year-old pianist and gardener, catalogued each contribution.

"Nothing will beat the box of buffalo poo," McDermott wrote in an E-mail. "But romantically I love the bag of rose petals and fig leaves." (Rowley added later that the shipping cost for the dung, which was sent from Colorado, was $57.90.)

McDermott explained that compost was a fitting metaphor for the wedding, noting that she and Rowley have both been married before. "We are recycled ourselves," she said by telephone. …

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