Thursday, April 15, 2010
I start tomato plants in my bedroom. They're growing wild, and every morning I have to do a little rearranging to keep the tops from brushing against the lights. When I touch them they release their green, spicy scent - one of my favorite smells.
Outside, the radishes, peas and spinach are poking their little green heads above the soil, and I dream of green salads.
I love food, and I love it even more when I know where it came from and who cared for it. When I eat a salad in a restaurant, I don't think about it in any agricultural sense. I may think about its taste and texture, but nothing about where it grew, and whose hands were involved in its planting and harvesting.
But when I make a salad from plants I've grown myself, or bought from neighbors, it has a story. I order the seed, plant it, water it, fuss over it as I wait for it to grow. And finally, I cut it, wash it, top it with sliced multi-colored radishes. Maybe I'll make a little dressing with blue cheese aged in caves an hour away. In this way, food connects me to my community. I am not only a consumer, but a participant in a cycle that begins every year with birth. And by this choice, I hope to have a greater understanding, as Wendell Berry writes, "that eating takes place inescapably in the world, that it is inescapably an agricultural act, and that how we eat determines, to some considerable extent, the way the world is used."
This is why, when I spend money on food, I try to support my neighbors and agricultural systems that honor land, family, and animals. My family buys grass-fed beef and pastured pork and poultry because we want to know that the animals that died to feed us had good lives, and that they were able to live in a way that honored their cow, pig, or chicken natures.
This year, I'm raising some of my own meat birds. My chicks are my babies, my little darlings. I love them and I'll give them the best life that I can, but one day they'll grow up, and I'll pack most of my boys into the car and take them to Callister Farm for processing. I'll be sad and I'll miss them but I'll also be incredibly thankful. When I roast one of my own birds, knowing the part I played in its life and death, I will remember two things that Berry wrote:
First, "Only by growing some food for yourself can you become acquainted with the beautiful energy cycle that revolves from soil to seed to flower to fruit to offal to decay, and around again. You will be fully responsible for any food that you grow for yourself, and you will know all about it. You will appreciate it fully, having known it all its life."
And second, "Eating with the fullest pleasure - pleasure, that is, that does not depend on ignorance, is perhaps the profoundest enactment of our connection with the world. In this pleasure we experience and celebrate our dependence and our gratitude, for we are living from mystery, from creatures we did not make and powers we cannot comprehend."