Touch, I think, is our first language. The all-to-often overwhelming experience of birth. Hands. Skin on skin contact. Hopefully! Tiny hats. Cuddling. Patting. Jiggling. Kisses. A finger to hold. Warmth. Heart beats. The gentle breath of the family dog. So many new experiences. So many things to learn.
Surely, if touch is our first language, food is our second, closely entwined. Ideally, breast milk. Warm. Slurpy. Tied forever, for most of us, in our deepest memories with being safe. With gentle breaths and gently groping, kneading hands. Safe. Sleepy. Bliss-full.
At least most of the time. In my own baby’s first days, we had some struggles. We had a rather traumatic birth experience but I was determined to breast feed. Dave was a big baby, and hungry. I was exhausted, totally out of whack on electrolytes, and, having lost a lot of blood, very low on iron.
Dave fed well and seemed comfortable after most feedings. Except when he wasn’t. I was frantic. He wailed and turned red and pulled his little knees up to his chest in the universal gesture of babies whose tummies hurt. He gulped in tons of air and needed constantly to be burped. Then, he was better.
After several days, I realized that it was always about the same times of day that he was so miserable. Ever the fan of Nancy Drew, I was determined to figure it out. And then I did. He was reacting to the prescription iron pills I was taking because my hemoglobin was so low.
I stopped the pills. He improved immediately. My doctors yelled. I responded that, if I had to eat 40 pounds of broccoli a day, I would, but I wasn’t taking the pills. (Fortunately broccoli was OK with Dave!) Things got better.
With plenty of other urgent things to figure out at that moment, I went on to things like nursing school. And finishing a Bachelor’s degree. And Seminary. And more Seminary. Dave ate just about everything and did great.
One thing led to another. I had some health issues and learned some new things. Many of those things had to do with food.
It turns out that, in the same way that food is a vital, early language for infants, it’s also a vital language throughout our lives. It’s a major way that we learn who our people are and where we’re from and how we do things. It’s a primary way we celebrate and mourn and care for others. It also turns out to be the way we send information to all the cells in our body. Information those cells react to by working well, or much less well. I’ve written more about this in my books, WE GATHER TOGETHER…holiday feasts with the family you have! and Grandmothers Are In Charge Of Hope. The long and the short of it is that food matters. A lot! Learning that has led me to become actively and intentionally involved in our local, clean, sustainably raised, artisanal food community. All boiled down, I vote with my fork and my wallet.
There’s an organic vegetable garden in the front yard. It took a bit of activism to get it there! I have aspirations toward permaculture, which sort of means tiny ecosystems that work together to require less fertilizer and water and things that damage the soil like mechanical tilling. (I’m still learning this one!)
For the first time, this year, we’re doing combined plantings of corn, beans, and squash, just like the Pilgrims learned from the Native Americans. Complete with fish heads! (I’ll keep you posted!) Companion plantings like this, along with plants that discourage harmful insects or break up the soil or compost in place mean lots less work and much healthier food.
I buy everything else I can from local farmers and local, artisanal producers. The rest of our food comes from the local International Farmers’ Market. Organic, grass fed, humanely, sustainably raised. Minimally processed. Minimal waste. I know my farmers and my butcher and the names of the hens who lay many of my eggs.
We buy very, very little canned, packaged, or processed food. Things that don’t need labels because they are what they are! And, while I’m sure we eat some occasionally when we eat out, I won’t knowingly buy anything with GMO’s. I’m active in encouraging labeling GMO’s but I’m also supporting banning GMO’s in America.
Why? Well, food like this is really good and I like really good food!
It’s good for the local economy. It’s gentle on the ecosystem. I feel good about feeding the food I grow and purchase and prepare to my granddaughters and helping them learn to do the same.
If this sounds a bit like a sermon, I’m OK with that. I know quite a bit about preaching and this isn’t really very different. We start with a text. (Or try to.) In this case an old story about being good stewards of a good and beautiful creation. Then we admit that we haven’t done so well. And then we cast a vision of doing better.
We’re not fundamentalists. I bake cookies at Christmas. The same ones my Granny made. We eat out. Mostly at local restaurants where the chefs and owners are trying to do better, too. Occasionally some ice cream follows Bill home from the supermarket run for recycled paper towels and various pharmacy kinds of things. (Coffee ice cream and Caramel gelato with sea salt, if you’re curious!)
It all boils down to love. Those granddaughters? They have to grow up in this world. I’m going to try to make it safer and better! Right now they’re into Legos. Food matters more.
The photo is of gorgeous veggies from the Wrecking Barn Farm which raises high quality, diverse, organic produce to supply its sibling bar-restaurant, the Wrecking Bar, some 30 miles east in Atlanta’s Little Five Points neighborhood. They also provide veg to Pine Street Market where I found this fabulous bundle of spring deliciousness.