The foundation of civilization is the ability of farmers to produce food in excess of their own needs. This, and only this, is what frees the rest of us to specialize in non-agricultural pursuits, and thus develop complex societies with advanced technologies and everything else people today take for granted. As awareness of the global food crisis grows, more of us are realizing this and are growing food gardens, even in the city.
But we have huge challenges to face. Although the "green revolution” has fed many, industrial food production has taken a colossal toll not only on the world’s arable soil, but also on the aquifers and local water systems. Restoring the health of our topsoil will require great work and perseverance. We will need the political will, but mostly, we will need young farmers. Some of the babies coming in now must be taught that organic farming is honest and satisfying work, requiring strenuous physical endurance combined with a lifetime of learning. We are realizing that getting our hands dirty and growing something connects us to Life on a spiritual level. We need to restore a sense of priorities rooted in the reality of our dependence on agriculture, whatever it costs us.
I remember back in the hippie ‘70s when my partner and I were struggling with our relationship with money, not having much…the great Cesar Chavez became a leading voice for migrant farm workers in the United States. Their working conditions were terrible; they were becoming sick ingesting so many chemicals from the spraying of crops. My conscience led me to buy the more expensive organic raisins despite the strain on our family food budget. Today there is a greater awareness of our purchasing power in support of fair trade and organically grown products. In the context of our personal budgets, it may cost more to make ethical purchases; but, in the context of the world as a whole, the cheap and destructive choice is actually much more costly.
Another way to restore our connection to food is being willing to change our food habits…such as buying too much at one time, having it spoil and throwing it away. It is very likely that rising food prices will reduce this wasteful practice in the future. Another is to restore the pleasure of eating, by focusing on the wonder of the food and the act of eating. The European ideal of dinner is to fully savour and appreciate eating as a primary activity of life, instead of gulping food down unconsciously while rushing to do the next thing, or eating while caught up in difficult emotions or less-than-harmonious conversation. This has developed into the Slow Food Movement.
Certainly one of the best features of the old hippie days was coming together at potlucks and holding hands in a big circle of thanks before digging in to eat. Yes, society en masse offers a prayer of thanks at holiday dinner tables, especially at Thanksgiving and Christmas. It’s time to restore this practice with any meal. Its an easy habit to cultivate… a momentary pause, a gracious gesture of respect. We can even be pro-active foodies by initiating a thanks-giving at the next potluck we share with friends. Whenever I get up the nerve to do so, my experience is that I am usually thanked for reminding people to be thankful!
Prayer combined with action is a dynamic duo. The good news is that grass-roots movements are global, working to establish a more just and environmentally sound earth reality. We need to nurture our farmers, and protect all arable land from development and from genetic engineering. Schools need to teach children about true nutrition, beyond the propaganda of official gov-ernment Food Guides whose origins can be traced back 100 years ago to the beef and dairy industries. And there are many, many people who need to learn how to cook from scratch, rather than opening a package or can.
One of the fastest growing movements on our continent related to food awareness is the establishment of local community Food Charters. The global food crisis has brought into focus vital concerns about food security, food sovereignty, food safety and food democracy. These charters restore our collective connection to food. Check out Gabriola’s Food Charter at: www.gabriolafoodchoices.org
Restoring our connection to food is something each of us can do, every day. The times now require us to make big changes…to shake off our consumer coma and become stewards of the planet that feeds us.
Tsiporah is a Gabriolan of 35 years and keen observer of our times and evolutionary potential as compassionate human beings.