Growing in Gratitude and why local eating won't save your soul. Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

On growing grateful and why eating local won’t save your soul Thoughts on Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

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.

 

Barbara Kingsolver Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Liturgy of Life Reading Group Discussion Questions

 

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.

 

For more from Liturgy of Life you can subscribe here for monthly emails, like me on facebook, or join our facebook discussion group. Thanks for reading friends I look forward to connecting with you.

 

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Barbara Kingsolver Meets St. Benedict Creating a Rule of Life for Yourself and Your Family

I wipe the grease from my hands, pop the last of my daughter’s Chick-fil-a nuggets into my mouth and open up to my recent read, Barbara Kingsolver’s, Animal, Vegetable, Mineral. This book is a memoir of Kingsolver’s family as they set out to eat only foods produced in their own county of Southern Appalachia for a full year. I confess the first time I heard the concept it sounded both boring and baffling. Why would would someone go to the trouble let alone write a book about it?

Kingsolver responds with a decent answer,

“We were going to spend a year integrating our food choices with our family values. . .”

She goes on to explain these values as, “love they neighbor,” and “not wreck every blooming thing on the planet,” along with the deeper desire to foster patience and restraint in herself and her family.

It was beginning to sound interesting. Not only that it sounded familiar.

A year or so ago when I first began this reading group we tackled, The Rule of St. Benedict, written 1500 years ago by, you guessed it, St. Benedict.  I don’t know if Kingsolver would put it this way, but like Benedict she had also set out to create a Rule of Life.

Barbara Kingsolver Meets St. Benedict. Creating a Rule of Life

If you aren’t familiar with it, a Rule of Life may sound domineering, but “rule” here as more to do with one of those wooden sticks that teachers use to swat the hands of unruly children than it does with laws or dictators.  Creating a Rule is about setting a standard by which you can measure progress.

We all do this naturally to some degree. Somewhere in us we have a set of values and everyday we make decisions that are either true to those values or not.  Some of our deepest frustrations, whether we realize it or not, come when our actions are inconsistent with what we believe.  When we can’t mange to act according to our rules the tyranny of life gets the best of us and we find ourselves reacting rather than living intentionally.

While Benedict’s Rule didn’t talk about local food he does include guidelines on meals and fasting and even specifics on how much wine a monk should drink.  After all, Our relationship with food is deeply embedded in our Christian history. Sin entered the world when Eve ate the forbidden apple. At Passover the Jews slaughtered and ate a lamb. Animal and grain sacrifices were integral in the worship of God. Jesus spent His final hours with his disciples eating a meal and we continue to receive Him by eating His flesh and drinking His blood. Food is our most basic means of interacting with God’s Creation.

Benedict doesn’t talk about local food because he doesn’t have to.  In his day nearly all foods were already local. Only recently has technology developed that has made it cost effective for us to eat apples from Argentina and lambs from New Zealand.  But this access to exotic food comes at a cost.  When we eat foods without knowing their history we make room for abuse of farm workers and child labor.  Our disconnect allows for the heavy use of hazardous chemicals in food production.   When we allow processed foods to become part of our routine (ahem Chick-fil-a play-date every Friday) we consume empty calories which, in part, has lead to epic rates of obesity, heart disease, and cancer in our nation.  The easiest way to combat all of this is to know the history of our food, to buy local and cook for ourselves.

All of a sudden Kingsolver’s book doesn’t seem so odd. We find her and St. Benedict telling us the same story. That values without action are meaningless and that most of us need a plan to get us to where we want to go. 

Establishing a Rule of Life is something that anyone can do.  It simply requires sitting down and reflecting on our values  and then setting standards to keep our lives consistent with them.  (If this sounds like something you want to do check out this simple resource guide. P.S. this is a ministry  created by my husband, and is a resource we use everyday in our family we hope it will be helpful in yours).  And maybe the hardest part in all of this is that it might just lead us to eat a little less Chick-fil-a.
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.

 

For more from Liturgy of Life you can subscribe here for monthly emails, like me on facebook, or join our facebook discussion group. Thanks for reading friends I look forward to connecting with you.

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Choosing the Path of Life: Thoughts on St Benedict

 

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More on Eating In Season:
Tasty, Affordable, Local
& Nutritious

Peach Orchard

A few weeks ago I posted about our visit to the strawberry patch and shared some some ideas about eating in season (read that post here). Eating seasonal foods has let us shop locally and support farms in our area. It has also kept us in touch with nature’s rhythms and has helped us feel more connected to the world around us.

Eating in season, though once the norm (before refrigeration and highways came around), is a new idea for most of us. In America we are used to having foods shipped to us from around the world and having access to what we want at any time of year. I got started on this idea  only about a year and a half ago but have loved what it has done for our family and the way we eat.

Here are some of the highlights of what I have learned:

1. Pay attention to what is in season in your area.  On this site you can look at a chart for each state. I made a smaller one for myself of the foods that we usually buy (I’ll post it as soon as I figure out how). This takes some work but it is fun, you will love anticipating the first ripe strawberry, then blackberry, then peach, then watermelon, and finally apples.

Apple Orchard
Last year at the apple orchard

 

2. Buy locally if you can.  But if you can’t try to buy foods in season where they are grown,  they will have a higher nutrient content and be fresher. Consider traveling distances. If you can get something from your state or the neighboring state go for it over something that comes from another continent.

3. Pick your own. Even if you can’t garden there are lot’s of opportunities to pick (this is a good source to help you get started). This let’s you get foods in season, connect with local farmers and pick foods when they are at peak ripeness. Plus most foods come to a point of overabundance when they are at peak season and prices drop. Which lets you buy more for less.

Picking Tomatoes
Picking Tomatoes last summer

4. Plant a Garden. A container garden is a great start.Planting some herbs or a few potted vegetables can help you get in touch with the growing seasons around you.

5. Shop at a farmer’s market.  The morning at a farmer’s market is fun and a great source of local produce. Plus more and more areas are offering something called a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) or or other types of co-ops that let you buy directly from local farms. Often this involves getting a box of in-season produce every week or two. Others are more flexible and let you order exactly the items you want. There are more and more websites dedicated to helping you connect to local food resources, here are just a few : USDA, Local harvest.

6. Let your grocery store know your preferences. Grocery stores are aware that consumers are becoming more interested in knowing where there foods come from. Some are already carrying local foods that you may not even know about so be sure to ask.

7. Learn to preserve foods.  Inevitably, when talking about eating in season, the question comes up. What do we eat in January when nothing is in season? While in Texas we may have a few greens and beets still growing, most of the country is covered in snow.  We will get into canning and drying foods later, but to start with just think about freezing. Anything you buy in the frozen foods section of the grocery store you can freeze yourself. So buy fruits and vegetables in season when they are ripe and from a local farmer, wash, dry, cut up and freeze. For a few, like tomatoes, it is better to roast with oil and then freeze in oil, these are great tossed in pastas in salads. Fresh herbs are great preserved in oil too. As the summer goes on we can go into the details, but for now just give freezing some thought. Freezing fresh summer produce can make for healthier and less expensive foods all year long.

9. Start cooking. Seasonal foods will inspire your menu, and because they are in season and fresh, will always be your tastiest ingredients.

A good cookbook to get started is this one by Alice Waters. Her focus is on fresh ingredients and she mentions the seasons of the produce as she gives her recipes.

Though the initial transition to a more seasonal diet can be a challenge (my family really missed  fresh tomatoes this winter) it can also make cooking and shopping easier. When I limit myself to what is in season I can ignore most of what is in the grocery store. And the in-season foods are often on sale making my shopping less expensive.  I am still new to this approach and definitely don’t stick to seasonal foods all of the time, but for the most part I have really enjoyed shopping and cooking this way. I’d love to hear your thoughts and tips.