I’m rereading Pearl S. Buck’s 1931 Pulitzer-Prize-winning novel, The Good Earth. This book was probably my introduction to China, picked from my grandmother’s bookshelf when I was a little girl. It was many people’s introduction to China, and perhaps even colors what some older people think China is like now. A fun thing to read as we finish updating Encyclopedia of China articles. What’s struck me about it is how much the focus on farming and connection to the soil would have resonated with middle Americans like my grandparents. Perhaps these last days of the presidential campaign has also made me think about middle American values, and the sturdiness and determination of our grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ generations, who survived wars and pandemics and the Depression.

This appreciation of middle America made me even crosser when I was served, yet again, a palid mound of damp and greasy potatoes with my ham and eggs, as I stopped for breakfast en route to the airport. What has happened to old-fashioned American hash browns? Even in England they now serve something called a hash brown at breakfast – a triangular fresh-from-the-freezer chunk of processed fried potato. I haven’t tasted this, sticking to old-fashioned grilled tomatoes and mushrooms with my bacon and eggs. But at least in England a hash brown is brown.