from essays in the collective “Bread, Body, Spirit” by Alice Peck, 2008.
Do we know how food comes to us? Do we know the story behind our food? Has someone suffered to grow food for us? Do we take food for granted?
Knowing how food comes to us is part of the responsibility of receiving it. Its not enough that just by paying for it, we are relieved of our responsibility. We are responsible for recognizing the multitude of actions required to bring us a piece of fruit, and that we are voting with our dollar. How food comes to us is “not always a pretty picture.” (Geoffrey Shugen Arnold, Sensei, p.98-103).
It is necessary that we chose to eat responsibly. Eating is an agricultural act and therefore we are all involved in agriculture. If we eat meat that some animal was made miserable for, we are choosing suffering. If we eat food that has products added to it that are not food, we are saying that ‘its ok’. If we want plant foods that are high in nutrition, then we have to select fruits and vegetables that come from good soils. If farmers are committing suicide, then they cannot sustain their lives being farmers. The choices we make will affect the health of the soil, the plants, the animals, the earth and inevitably the ones eating. How we eat determines how the earth’s resources are used and the health of the environment we live in (from Wendell Berry, p.92-95).
We are responsible for knowing that the food that comes to us was brought about from the simple act of sowing a seed to its miraculous transformation into new life, too growing, blossoming and becoming fruit, all the while having been tended by a farmer, whose life and hardships, we know nothing about. And then from this tiny seed, the anticipation of its harvest, the fruit being prepared into food, wine or a meal, and finally being served, and eaten, sometimes celebrated and shared. Would we not then call the work of the farmer, the cook and the server sacred acts rather than just practical ones?
We are responsible for how we eat. How we eat reflects how we live. If we eat fast food, we are hurrying through life. If we have strict dietary rules, we need to control. If we overeat, we are emotionally empty. By enjoying food, we learn to enjoy life. By focusing our attention on what we are eating, we learn to focus our attention on things that matter. By eating with less restrictions, we open our hearts. By eating with dignity, we learn to live with dignity (from Mark David, p.96-7).
The fact that farmers are constrained by narrow choices such as monoculture over diversity, and commodity pricing over being price setters in a marketplace, means that they have forgotten about those powers that we cannot comprehend and that the Earth is a living organism that has nourished life since the beginning with incredibly diverse forms of nourishment. The soil is a sanctuary that needs to be protected. Farmers work within this sanctuary and engage in the miraculous forces of creation to nourish communities (from Miriam Therese MacGillis, p.8-11). When we begin to understand that we will never understand these forces and that we will never understand life, the humility that arises out of this will create a deep respect for that which sustains us, that which we will never fully know, the miracle of food and farming.
We are responsible for eating with gratitude, no matter how small the offering. For this is when we experience the sacred. For without food, there is no human life. The act of eating brings us into existence and unites us.
Consider this example:
“Strawberries are too delicate to be picked by machine. The perfectly ripe ones even bruise at too heavy a human touch. It hit her then that every strawberry she had ever eaten – every piece of fruit – had been picked by calloused human hands. Every piece of toast with jelly represented someone’s knees, someone’s aching back and hips, someone with a bandanna on her wrist to wipe away the sweat. Why had no one told her about this before?” (Alison Luterman, p.15)