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Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in food

Posted by on in Culture Blogs

b2ap3_thumbnail_blacktomatoes2_sm.jpgWhere and how does food become a religious issue? I can think of two cases. The first is when we have a relationship with what we eat. The second, when there are purity issues at stake. In his Moral Foundations theory, Jonathan Haidt says that human concepts of purity are shaped by the psychology of disgust and contamination, and holds that the body is a temple that can be desecrated by eating something that has been contaminated. While this has not, in my experience, been the case with the Pagans I know, it is common in many other religions.

I’ve found the first case is far more common for Pagans. Ritualizing the harvest of a carefully raised animal is now not uncommon among Heathens. Of the Pagans I know who garden, raise livestock animals, or grow their own food or herbal medicines, every single one has a relationship with the land, and the living beings that thrive there. Such relationships are deeply interactive. Goats are fed and milked. The milk is drunk, and soap is made nourishing humans and creating products that can be gifted or sold. Chickens are fed and housed, their eggs supporting bodies and their antics providing food for the soul. Gardens are carefully planned, mulched, fertilized and the harvest proudly shared, or preserved.

And then there is the ethic of caring for the Earth. Modern agriculture is one of the nastier things we do to the planet.

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  • Jenn
    Jenn says #
    I am a homesteader and so food is definitely a sacred part of my life. We raise chickens (for both meat and eggs) and Shetland she

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Hard Work as Sacrament

It is harvest-time here in the southern Highlands of the Appalachian mountains. The green beans have been blanched and frozen. The blessed elderberry harvest has been frozen and juiced and tinctured for winter healings. The apples are in now and I have spent many and many an hour cutting off the bruised parts and cutting out the wormy bits and chopping them up. Some have gone into bags to be future pies and apple cake. Others have become applesauce and many of them have been crushed for their juice and amended with yeast and honey to be hard cider in the cold months to come.

If I sound like the busy Ant from the fable that is appropriate. There are "fun" things that I have declined attending because the harvest is in and there is food to process. Not so much fun now but imagine pesto from my own basil, thawed in the depths of January. And I hold fast the notion of a crisp cold hard cider as the perfect celebration of the the Midwinter Solstice.

Many--possibly most--modern Pagans have a spiritual or intellectual understanding of the concepts of "harvest" because their world is one in which food comes from a store or farmers' market and not from the back yard. I make no judgement here, friends. Our lives are as they are. But I wish for them the chance to break the ground gently in the early spring, to pull a row and plant seeds that were saved from last year's crops and watch for the tiny bright green shoots that sing out "germination!"

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  • Byron Ballard
    Byron Ballard says #
    I love that poem--thank you for posting it. Marge Piercy certainly gets it, doesn't she? green beans...
  • Diotima
    Diotima says #
    Your lovely post made me think of this, one of my very favorite poems. The poem, and the fact that I still have that bag of beans

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Harvest Some Fun For Lammas

Lammas, or Lughnassadh can easily be a forgotten Wiccan/Pagan holiday. It is not as showy as Samhain, or as lusty and festive as Beltane. But it remains one of the major sabbats, and should be recognized as such. The harvest is a time to gather: thoughts and blessings. It is about taking stock. We are getting ready for the next big seasonal shift. It is actually quite a powerful time, if you stop to ponder it. What better way to celebrate than to host an intimate gathering, simply to bake and break bread together; to just be? 

I would keep this one at four to five guests, tops. You know the old saying about too many cooks in the kitchen! Assign one person on each bread recipe– I have three that you could try. Have a fourth person on oven-tending and clean-up duty. If you have a fifth, let them set up serving plates and make sure everyone's glass stays filled with one of the following: sparkling apple juice, a hearty locally made craft ale, or a nice fruity barley wine. 

These recipes should provide variety for everyone, but please feel free to play with the flours or ingredients to make one vegan. Note that the Bacon Buttermilk Corn Bread should keep the gluten-free folks happy.

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b2ap3_thumbnail_Samhaintable2_sm.jpgAs I write this, Samhain has just passed. I think about my maternal grandfather who left his family in Boston because he was tired of being beaten over a badly recited catechism. He fled north to Maine where he must have helped one of the locals work the fields in exchange for room and board. He was listed on the 1910 census and then dropped off the radar for a while as he traveled around the country doing whatever job came his way. He did stone masonry and lumbering, and worked the railroads, and eventually made it back to Maine where he married my “Old Maid” grandmother. I never knew him, and barely knew her before she developed dementia.

Connecting with them is a challenge. Grandpa is a bit easier because mom was close to him and I have more stories. I like to do things with stone and wood as he did, and I often feel him near me when I am building rough stone walls or doing carpentry. Grandma is tougher. Mom found her critical and doesn’t talk about her much. But I know she cooked. And I know she canned food because some of the jars are still in the basement, 50 years later.

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  • Selina Rifkin
    Selina Rifkin says #
    Thank you! I came into this for my health as well, and found that it connected me in a very deep way to my spiritual values. I ser
  • Soli
    Soli says #
    Really? I have to admit that I have been quiet about my spiritual life around real food folks because so many of the ones I know t
  • Selina Rifkin
    Selina Rifkin says #
    Please note that I live in a very blue state, and am self employed, so my risk was relatively low. Coming out is a very personal c

Posted by on in Culture Blogs

b2ap3_thumbnail_BackyardAqauponics_sm.jpgThe next principle is eating clean food produced without chemicals, preferably using biodynamic or permaculture standards. Even the average American today understands the concept of “organic,” although the reality is not quite the same. USDA organic certificationis most certainly better than conventional agriculture in terms of spraying fewer nasty chemicals on our food, which adds up to less poison in our air, water and bodies and healthier farm workers.

It does not however, mean that there are zero poisons on the veggies. Organic standards allow for naturally occurring pesticides, herbicides and fungicides to be used. In addition, these standards, in practice, do not do anything about feeding soil fertility, or about the quality of life for livestock.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs

b2ap3_thumbnail_Paulus_Potter_-_Cows_in_a_Meadow_sm_20130207-012507_1.jpgOne of the most important beliefs that Pagans hold is that life is cyclical. We are born, we live, we die, and are re-born. Death is not escapable. No one gets out of here alive. Mortality is part of existence, but all things return. Relationship is another aspect that defines Pagan attitudes about food. For Pagans, deity is immanent in the world. Every rock, every tree, everything that moves and breathes is sacred. Including what we eat. It is very common for Pagans to feel a deep kinship with both animals and plants. This creates an ethical dilemma that conflicts with the natural cycles of life and death, and is not easy to solve. How does one eat one’s brother? Industrial farming is repugnant to anyone who takes the time to look. But even more so to a Pagan who claims kinship to all living things.

Veganism –the practice of eating no animal products at all - has been one solution to the relationship problem, although, as with the general population, vegetarianism – not eating animal flesh, but consuming dairy and eggs - is more common. For physiological reasons, veganism is extremely difficult to maintain, and generally requires far more asceticism than is generally acceptable in Paganism. Vegan Pagans don’t get much sympathy in a religion where enjoying one’s food can include exclaiming over bacon and groaning over a chocolate confection. Although most Pagans still eat a standard American diet, vegetarianism is common. I have yet to go to a Pagan event that did not have some sort of vegetarian option for food.

Another aspect that defines Paganism is the sacred earth. Modern Paganism was deeply influenced by the environmental movement, and as a religion based on the seasonal cycles of nature, we honor the health of the planet. Sadly, modern methods of meat production are bad for every living being directly involved with, or anywhere near the process. A great deal has been written about these issues and it is not my intent to re-cap them here. Nor is it my intent to convince anyone to be a vegetarian. Our ancestors ate meat, and every culture seeks access to more if they do not have a ready supply. This is not a failing, it is part of being human.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs

In the two months since the election my broader outlook has become less defensive.   I have begun turning from battling the nihilistic right to the vastly more rewarding challenge of helping build a attractive alternative to modernity’s collapsed moral foundations. That collapse facilitated the right wing’s attempt to impose traditional authoritarianism in both secular and religious guise. Now, instead of constantly uprooting the right’s intellectual and moral weeds I hope to help prepare the ground for new growth and beauty. We sure need it.

My reading has shifted from politics to exploring recent studies exploring how our world is truly conscious “all the way down.” So long as materialist reductionism dominate the intellectual conversation, with irrational monotheism as the alternative, we will be regarded as exotic outsiders, and not taken seriously.  This conversation desperately needs widening. More and more people are becoming aware of the inner bankruptcy of the Enlightenment project and its monotheistic alternatives, and so are open to views such as that of many Pagans if they are skillfully presented.

Mainstream philosopher of science Thomas Nagel’s short Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False,  argues materialistic reductionism will not work and suggesting possibilities with more promise.  All involve making consciousness in some sense a fundamental aspect of reality “all the way down.” Coming from the perspective of process philosophy, Christian de Quincey’s  Radical Nature: The Soul of Matter   is a more demanding work making the positive case that nature is conscious. After Nagel demolishes, de Quincey builds.  These two books are an excellent beginning, and for most, probably a good ending to seeing how a Pagan friendly outlook helps solve problems in the contemporary worldview, and does so from the perspective of contemporary thinking.

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  • Peter Beckley
    Peter Beckley says #
    Thank you for writing this, it's so nice to know there are others who feel this way.

Posted by on in Culture Blogs

b2ap3_thumbnail_rusting_plow_sm.jpgThe first principle of Pagan kosher is eating locally. Local is a scale of distance. It might be the chickens in your backyard, or on your roof if you live in a city. It might be the milk you buy from the farmer in the next town, the grain from the next county, or the potatoes from the next state over. This both cuts down on the use of fuel needed to transport food and honors the place where we live. We live in a highly mobile society and, as Pagans, it can be hard to connect with a local landscape. We often use meditation as a way to make that connection, and while that is a valid approach, knowing what lives near your home that can feed you is far more visceral.

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  • Selina Rifkin
    Selina Rifkin says #
    Anne, from a nutritional standpoint, veganism is highly risky behavior. But I completely support it from a religious standpoint, a
  • Anne Newkirk Niven
    Anne Newkirk Niven says #
    An article in support of your position, though it's not too friendly to vegans. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/jan/1
  • Pumpkyn
    Pumpkyn says #
    I really enjoyed reading this entry. I'm looking forward to reading more about Pagan Kosher.

Posted by on in Culture Blogs

b2ap3_thumbnail_dinnerplate1_20130102-151811_1.jpg

Jews may avoid shellfish and pork, and Hindus can pass on the beef. Having food laws in the context of religion is a familiar concept, but why would I suggest such a thing for Paganism? I am not advocating for is a set of hard and fast rules such as never eat walnuts,but a set of guidelines. By Pagan, I mean the family of modern religions that honors the earth and women, and that may use ancient cultures as models for ritual construction and more tribal living. I am borrowing the term “kosher” because it is in common use, and because my husband is Jewish. I acknowledge there is an aspect of cultural appropriation to using a Jewish term when I am not Jewish, but it is my hope that we Pagans will come up with a term of our own. One of my friends suggested "Eating Gaian."

But why should it matter? Are not all acts of love and pleasure Her rituals? Certainly eating chocolate can approach the experience of ecstasy. But what if that chocolate was harvested with child labor? And how good can we feel about an industry built on a foundation of slave labor? The sugar trade spawned the African Slave trade, and never mind what it does to our health. But this is just one example. The food we eat should not just feed our hunger, our desire. It should feed our bodies and minds. It can connect us with our ancestors and our descendants. It can connect us to our local environment. Every time we eat, it is a chance to affirm our ethical choices, and create alignment with our communities. Food is powerful.

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  • Diotima
    Diotima says #
    Oh, and I like to call this kind of eating "fair-trade", because that is what needs to happen, not only in an economic sense, but
  • Diotima
    Diotima says #
    Thank you for addressing this, Selina. It's a vitally important topic, one which environmentally-aware people (and I'd like to thi

I recently read an online post about Japanese food in which the author’s grandmother advised her to chew her first bite of rice eighty-eight times. The process of taking rice from seed to tongue apparently takes eight-eight steps, including the agricultural growing process, harvesting, processing, cooking, and so forth. Chewing eighty-eight times is a way, then, of showing respect to the rice, the farmers, the cooks, and so forth.

I have long been interested in what author Margaret Visser calls “the rituals of dinner” in the book of the same title. Visser has penned several tomes on the anthropological construction of mealtimes, including the aforementioned Rituals of Dinner and Much Depends on Dinner, and she dives into everything from good table manners (children pack their mouths with food because as infants they had taste sensors in their cheeks, for example) to utensil choice to throwing dinner parties  to deciding to prepare food oneself or to have it prepared (and take the chance that someone might intentionally poison it). Perhaps my favorite chapter in Rituals, however, is “Dinner is Served,” in which she looks at hand-washing, dinner bells, the role of “tasters” (to avoid those pesky poisons), and most importantly, noticing the food, the host or hostess, the other diners, and other atmospheric elements. Such notice, and the natural expressions of appreciation which accompany it, have become the traditions of saying “grace” or “thanks” for the meal before eating.

We have passed Thanksgiving, and are moving towards the winter holidays at rapid speed. I come from a culture where saying grace before a meal is simply “what’s done,” and while it usually comes with Christian overtones or contexts, the leader of the prayer is solely responsible for its content. Much gets made of the idea of saying grace even within Pagan communities, by way of offering thanks to the plants and animals who have given their lives that we might live, and that we might show appreciation to the gods for the blessing of another meal in the company of those we love. I love the quiet moment of grace before a meal, myself, and find that food is seldom foremost on my mind during such prayers. Instead, the consumption of bodily nourishment becomes secondary to the nourishment provided by gratitude and awareness.

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Ancient Hellas is one of the oldest and most important wine-producing civilizations, with evidence of production dating back 6,500 years. Because of the climate, soil and the native vine stocks of the Hellenic islands, ancient Hellenic wine was of great quality. It was a major trade good throughout Europe, and was grown throughout the Hellenic nation--in what is now modern day Italy, Iberia, Sicily, and the south of France. People as far away as modern-day Austria and Russia, as well as many other ancient societies--like the Etruscans, the Phoenicians, the Celts, the Scythians and the Romans--were influenced to some extent by the ancient Hellenic wine making business and culture. But how was wine used in ancient Hellenic ritual?

 

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs

 

Yes, I feed my Ancestors.

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  • Joseph Bloch
    Joseph Bloch says #
    As part of their Samhain celebrations, my wife and her coven always do a Dumb Supper. I don't partake myself, as my faith has its
  • Tess Dawson
    Tess Dawson says #
    I enjoyed this Byron. What you do sounds very similar to the kispu rite in Canaanite and Amorite tradition. A living family would

Greek food is best known for the heavy amounts of meat, fish and tzatziki, but did you know that many of these dishes go back centuries? Here are some of the dishes the ancient Hellens would have eaten as well.

First, some basics: the main diet of the ancient Greeks consisted of bread, olives, olive oil, figs, cheeses, fish, squid, grapes, apples and other fruits, and honey. Meat was expensive and thus rarely eaten. Domesticated animals were only eaten after being sacrificed to the Gods. To not do so was barbaric and impure. Also considered barbaric was to drink wine which was not watered down and to drink milk. Breakfast and lunch consisted of bread dipped in wine, with olives, figs, cheese or dried fish added to the lunch menu. Dinner usually consisted of vegetables, fruit, fish, and possibly honey cakes, but which dishes survived to this day?

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs

Proposition 37 is voter-mandated proposal in California to label products that contain Genetically Modified Organisms. If you are still unclear about exactly what GMOs are, and why they are bad, let’s have an explanation.

GMOs should really be called transgenic organisms. Humans have been modifying plants and changing their genetics since the beginning of agriculture. We do this by choosing seeds from the healthiest, best producing plants and growing them. But this is not remotely what corporations like Monsanto and Syngenta are doing. These corporations take genes from two organisms that would never naturally reproduce together (because the equipment would not even match up) and combines them together into one Frankenplant (or Frankenanimal).

When these plants get eaten by another living being, those combo genes enter that system. In the case of livestock, they don’t generally live long enough to show the damage that these combo genes cause, and if they did, I’m sure the owners of the CAFOs would do all they could to hide it. But there are enough studies that show that GMOs are dangerous for scientists to have spoken out against them.

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  • Natalie Reed
    Natalie Reed says #
    Thank you for speaking out on this important issue. Even if one believes that GMO's are harmless, at least labeling allows one to

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Ancestral Recipes

This time last year, I was looking for somewhere fun to take my sweetie Albert for his birthday. We ended up heading up to Chico for the World Music Festival there. It was a really fun weekend and I highly recommend the event for those who like diverse music and don't like huge crowds. It's smaller and more intimate than other festivals I've attended, and I really felt like I got to connect more with the performers, vendors, and other attendees.

While we were visiting for the festival, an open-air market was happening just outside of town in the more rural farming community where the almond growers make their trade. This was a proper "Hoes Down" kind of affair that felt like a throwback to the festivals of my youth in upstate New York, with folks selling their handmade quilts and rag rugs and knit items, jewel-toned jars of homemade jam and pickles, whimsical yard decor, and a classic car show. I grew up going to events like these in the rural areas around my small hometown of Olean. It was fun to touch that country energy again. Urban farmer's markets in the Bay Area, with highbrow marketing, rapid turnaround, thronging crowds and long lines, are fun and exciting, but they are not quite like these homespun, slow-moving events. Different birds altogether.

I passed a booth where an elderly man was selling a small selection of preserved foods: pickled peppers, beans, and cucumbers. I had been hoping to find a pickled bean vendor, as spicy dill beans are among my favorite snacks. I stepped in to the booth and inquired after a jar of beans: how much? Spicy or not?

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  • Anne Hendley
    Anne Hendley says #
    What a wonderful story! How special for you to honor his wife in such a way. I have found myself trying my hand at gardening and
  • Natalie Reed
    Natalie Reed says #
    Oh sure, make me cry at my desk at work!! Lovely story, thank you for sharing and for honoring the woman the way you did.
  • Amy McCune
    Amy McCune says #
    Are you originally from Olean , NY? I'm from Derrick City, PA; right over the hill!

Posted by on in Paths Blogs

Today is Lammas-tide, Lughnasadh, the festival of the grain harvest. Across the land, fields full of golden wheat, barley and numerous others have been growing tall, a feast for the eyes as they bend in the breeze, a feast for the birds, bees, mice and other creatures that run between the rows.

In centuries past, it would be entire communities who came out to help with the harvest, threshing, binding and preparing the crop to last them the winter. Fuel is needed for heat, nourishment and sustenance for livestock - without a successful harvest, a lean winter means walking the path between life and death.

These days, it's more the rumble of heavy-duty farming machinery at work that is heard as the harvest is gathered in - but it's no less valuable for that. Despite the knowledge that we can import food, fuel and whatever we need from other places, there's still the essential connection between us and the land as personified in the life of our fuel-stuffs. We celebrate it, we recognise and remember it. Children make corn-dollies, singers remember John Barleycorn.

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  • Hunter Liguore
    Hunter Liguore says #
    I ventured to make "corn" dollies from corn husks, only to realize that they are made from the wheat or barley. Amazing what can b

Posted by on in Culture Blogs

The mid-west is in a drought. Crops are dying and wildfires are flaring all across the Midwest. In this post, I will focus on the loss of crops. The primary crops for the Midwest are corn and soybeans. This year, corn planting is at an all time high at 96.4 million acres. Almost none of it is sweet corn. The vast majority is commodity corn, which will become feed for pigs and cattle, be used for the production of corn by-products, or to produce ethanol. None of these uses improve human or planetary health or well-being. In addition, between 85 and 95 percent of the corn planted in the afflicted states is GMO.* Corn is – by necessity - almost always rotated with soybeans. Over 90 percent of all soybeans are GMO.

How absurd that we tear up native prairie grasses to grow corn or soybeans to feed cattle. Such grasses are far more resistant to heat and drought conditions. Their roots, extending 15 feet below the soil line, literally raise the water table. As I have written in other posts, cattle are not designed to eat grain, and it is bad for their health and ours. They are designed to eat grass. In a wet year, such grasses also improve the soil’s ability to hold water. This reduces both flooding and erosion.

Rotational strip-grazing of cattle instead of commodity cropping would necessarily change how the market works. Cattle and pigs are finished in factory farms and fed corn and soy feeds for the convenience of the processors. The deplorable conditions that these animals endure, which are problem for any Pagan for which relationship matters, are a function public demand.

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  • Anne Newkirk Niven
    Anne Newkirk Niven says #
    GREAT POST. We are planning our first locally-grass fed beef purchase this fall. We are sharing with a neighbor (and possibly my s
  • Hunter Liguore
    Hunter Liguore says #
    Information is the key. Talking about it. Dispelling myths. I just finished watching "Forks Over Knives." It was astonishing to se

Posted by on in Culture Blogs

An it harm none, do what ye will – Doreen Valiente

Most Pagans in this country were raised Christian. No I haven’t taken any sort of official poll, but since Christianity is the dominant religion in the United States, and Paganism is one of the fastest growing religions, the math is unavoidable. Coming from the structured dogma of a monotheistic religion into one that places all life-choices squarely in one’s own lap can be a heady experience, as is the vastly different image of the body.

Early Neo- Paganism – which was dominated by Wicca – held and still holds, that the body is a good thing, and the good feelings that arise from it are to be embraced and welcomed. Indeed, such feelings can be counted as acts of worship to a deity. This attitude has resulted in a good deal of healing for many around body image and sexuality. It has been a positive force for growth and change. Eating is something to be enjoyed, savored, and celebrated. Guilt is not necessary. Size is not equated with morality. Bodies are a gift, and we are glad to be in them.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs

gardenveggies_sm.jpgI finally joined a CSA. CSA stands for community supported agriculture. Effectively, it means that I agree to purchase a certain percentage of a farmer’s crop for a growing season at a specific price. In this case, the season started in May and will end in October or November. The advantage to me is that I will get a variety of fresh vegetables weekly until the CSA finishes. The advantage to the farmers is that  they are guaranteed a specific income for their labor. I am sharing their risk because if the weather becomes nasty and the tomatoes rot, they still get paid for their time and effort.

I’ve known about CSAs for 10 years, and despite my obsession with healthy food have never joined one before this. First, I travel, and the weekly pickup would be impossible. Second, I can’t eat sweet peppers. What has changed is that I am not doing the CSA alone, but have a partner. The farm is on her way home from work and she is willing to accommodate both my absences and quirky dietary issues, and it turns out this particular farm has a vegetable exchange policy. We are splitting the share, which should still leave us with a respectable amount of veggies. What pleases me to no end is that my partner is a fellow Pagan.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs

ireland-fields.jpgWhen I was a kid in the 70s, mom collected our newspapers and tin cans for recycling, and she and I would pick up trash by the side of the road. In school I saw a completely traumatizing film about a world constantly awash in grey polluted rain, in which a woman maintains a little green house. A green house that ultimately gets destroyed by a mob, desperate for a touch of beauty. I named myself an environmentalist with pride and did so up until I started studying sustainable food production methods.

That food production in this country spews vast amounts of poison onto the earth and water is not news. The fact that the larger environmental movement had more passion for spotted owls than acres of toxins was somewhat understandable. Food production was – and is – a political hot potato. The idea that modern farming methods saved millions from starvation was probably true enough for a short period of time - immediately after artificial fertilizers and DDT were introduced - but now that is the story that corporations like Cargill and Monsanto use to keep us convinced that they should be allowed to sell GMO seeds and pesticides. And the silence from the environmental movement is deafening. The focus on mega fauna and fortress conservation has separated the average American from nature. Nature is something we go to parks, or zoos, or media to see. School children are shocked and grossed out by the fact that vegetables grow from dirt. The same attitude that places Nature on a pedestal separates us from the source of what nourishes body and soul.

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