Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Feeding Ourselves, Each Other

by Jas Faulkner 

During a conversation about the division between acts that are sacred and profane, the act of feeding oneself and others was something that quite surprisingly had the room divided. The profane folks saw the enterprise as something purely physical, for them it came down to the mundane business of  manufacturing and distributing fuel for the human animal. The profane folks were incredibly prosaic about it.  Food goes in, people stay alive at least and are productive at best. I couldn't help but wonder if their response to Soylent Green would have been a shrug and a mumbled response about it being less messy than composting.

The other side, which in the interest of disclosure, included me, saw things a little differently. The practical aspects are undeniable.  In order for it to really work in the long run, there has to be something deeper at work, an awareness of how truly interconnected we are.  This starts with the people who raise our food and continues through those who carry out its distribution and preparation. Beyond the obvious requirements of healthy soil, safe water, and hard work, the not so obvious components are knowledge, trust, and the recognition that we are nurturing, respecting and supporting each other at every step in the process.

Over the course of the season, I have written about the need to know your food sources and the importance of understanding the nature of how they produce what you put on the table.  Now I would like to talk about the table itself.  I'll offer this precis:  Nothing I'm going to say is particularly new.  The subject has been approached by thinkers and observers as diverse as Thomas Merton, John Robbins, Rose Nader, Ward Goodenough, Francis Moore, Lappe, Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, Deb Duchon, Tony Campolo, Jane Goodall, Matthew Fox, Michael Pollan, Marion Cunningham...I could go on for at least a page worth of names.  Let's just say I'm standing on the shoulders of giants.

All of those people recognized how important the act of feeding yourself and your family could be. It is fueling the body.  It is also a promise we give to ourselves and each other that we are caring enough to do what is right and what is best when we make choices about food.  Preparation should be a continuing learning experience for both ourselves and if we share a home with someone, the people we live with. Mindfulness about preparation means respecting the sacrifices that go into the ingredients you use. If you eat meat, it is the recognition of the life that was sacrificed to provide that protein. For everything, it is gratitude to the farmers who decide to make a professional  life borne of either family tradition or an innate dedication to the discipline.

As hard as it can be at times, really as hard as it has been for North American families since the post-war boom of the 1940s', we need to extend that to a shared time around the table. If the act of choice and preparation are bound in trust, the culmination of that is the meal itself.  So much of our consumption happens when we are on the run.  Even if we spend quiet time in the early morning making sure we are prepared to meet mealtimes with healthy food throughout the say, there is still the need for the community of the table. Sharing food is a big part of it, but it is also where we share more of ourselves.

The meal together, whether it is in the morning before we go meet the day or as we close ourselves in for the night is the time when we all get to know each other all over again.  As we are touched by the world, we grow and change.  To miss out on that shared time without television, without outside distractions, is to miss out on those developments, small and large that make us who we are at every age.  We are bonded by what we share when we are most vulnerable,and that is when we settle in and open up to those closest to us.

So much of what we do is segregated by age, interests and other ways we identify ourselves that the communal table should be a daily thing instead of a rare, special happenstance. Think of it as voting everyone back on to the island. It's as easy as passing the peas and listening.

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