The other night we gathered round for dinner. Taking our seats I looked down at my plate and gasped. Staring back up at me in my gravy drippings was a story. An edible story to be exact and one with many parts. There was the old friend and his family ranch, the hours he spent putting up fences, digging ditches, and the deer he killed and butchered for us. And then of our neighbor who this year began her first garden, filled with arugula and carrots which she skeptically tended until it began producing beyond what she could eat. Then there is the bread, ground from flour using a borrowed mill, and wheat, another gift, which became bread when it mixed with the sourdough that came to me after being passed on, hand to hand, kitchen to kitchen, for over a century. As I lifted my fork I saw my connection to the world displayed in my salad dressing, which I mix just like my Yiayia taught me, reminding me of the dirt out of which I was formed, and the people who made me and it tasted good.
Eating local is a privilege that I don’t take lightly. Of course it wasn’t always this way, not long ago food was produced in just about every household. We are beginning to mourn that loss and find ways to help even those with limited resources regain their role as producer. Still, for the moment, local eating requires some combination of either land, time and money. For many families, who are just scraping by, simply having food on the table, local or not, is something to celebrate.
And that’s what it’s all about, however or wherever our food comes from, we have a spirit that longs to celebrate, especially around a full table (if this sounds familiar you might be thinking about the whole premise behind the Thanksgiving Holiday).
Our best living is done when we recognize that all things come from God and when we offer those things back to Him. We need to say, “Thank you,” not for God’s sake but for ours. Every act of gratitude draws us toward contentment in the midst of a world that always gives us a reason to be miserable and tells us we will never have enough.
Eating local is a privilege. And those of us who can splurge on a $10 bottle of wine or a bar of European chocolate once in a while need to take our privilege seriously. Like it or not, money is power and we are consumers. Our purchases communicate our values to the world. If we don’t ask where our chocolate comes from we will never know about the Ghanan boy who misses school to wield machetes in the cocoa fields giving us affordable chocolate for the low price of a lost finger or two.
And this isn’t just about food. Everything we purchase from our toothbrush to the paint on our walls come from somewhere and is made of something. If we want to know what we are supporting we need to ask questions.
Still, the worst part of all of this, is that even when we find the answers, even when we make good choices, we can’t save the world or even our own souls. We will never know if when we stop buying imported chocolate we have helped that boy get back into school or left his family destitute. There isn’t always a clear answer and my priorities and yours might not be the same.
We can hope that our efforts to shop locally and put money into our own economies will create accountability and do some good in the world, and I think it will. But even if it doesn’t, purchasing with intention will change us. It will free us from the allure of the quick and the easy. And it will open our eyes to our connection with the world and teach us to celebrate the story that is already being written on every dinner plate.
This post is part of our Reading Group series. Right now are reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. We would love for you to join us.