Updated: Oct 20, 2022
The act of consuming food is arguably one of the most frequent and intimate activities in our daily lives. It’s quite literally taking plant and animal flesh whose existence was sacrificed, portioned with a knife and ground with teeth into digestible matter and then deep within our gut the thoughtless process of breaking down foreign proteins into free amino acids which are then turned into human protein and subsequently into the building blocks of our own flesh and bone takes place. It’s nothing short of miraculous how our body can instinctively take care of itself when given the proper nutrition. Yet, in our modern western world of convenience, abundance and variety how often we forget, and much less appreciate the craft and the art of producing food that not only nourishes the body, but can restore the land and build culture.
Historically food was only a local and seasonal affair. Berries, birds, fruits and greens in the summer. Grains, gourds, game and nuts in the fall. Roots and the slaughtering of the fatten hog or calf in the winter. Early spring, which coincides with Lent for the northern hemisphere, was a natural penitential season as the “bottom of the barrel” was a going concern and meager meals were a natural necessity for the common family to get through until the first spring greening. This reality of feasting, fasting and seasonal variety intimately and naturally tied societies to the land, the seasons and their local culture.
Fast forward to the post industrial, refrigerated and relatively cheap energy scene of the 21st century. We have nearly conquered the limitations of space and time. Mahi Mahi in Manhattan? No problem. A Bodacious Bison Burger in Boynton Beach? Why not. With this perceived freedom from place and season, certainly some things have been gained. Food is more accessible and cheaper than it has ever been historically thanks to scale, cheap oil and mechanical efficiency. It wasn’t uncommon for fifty percent of the common urban man’s wages to be spent on food two hundred years ago compared to today’s fifteen to twenty percent. However, even with these victories and ‘liberating’ 99% of the first world population from the drudgery of the spade - has what’s been gained outweighed what's been lost?
From the point of view of being intimately connected to the intimate act of eating - I would argue - No. Does this mean we must all forgo the supermarket, relocate to the farm and take to the plow - not necessarily. Simply starting a window box of herbs, or if space allows a “square foot” garden for seasonal greens will not only provide superior food, in taste and quality, but more importantly will help reconnect the hands to the humus, the soul to the seasons and the family to the table.
Most young children love cultivating. When they equate their labor, care and diligence to a chore that contributes to the common good of the family their sense of pride and confidence grows with each plant. Not to mention the biological, biblical and seasonal wisdom they gain at a young age. Another family challenge, maybe to consider for Lent, is restricting one’s diet as much as possible to what is grown locally and seasonally - regardless if it is from your land or a local farm, there is a great opportunity to not only patronized the local agriculture scene but also mortify our spoiled modern day palate and cultivate new culinary skill in transforming Red Russian Kale, or the like, into several unique recipes.
And for the items not feasibly grown in our modest garden. Can we not find a butcher, baker or beekeeper we can call on by name? Who’s hands we trust to craft the food we place in our mouth? Sure, they will likely be more expensive than shopping at the “local” Walmart, due to lack of scale, but who’s work contributes more to the beauty and restoration of culture in the local community?
And yet, there are some idealists, a growing number at that, who are inspired to join the New Catholic Land Movement currently underway. What they lack in experience, is more than made up for with enthusiasm. Some are simply homesteading and supplementing with working remotely while others are attempting a full-on commercial agribusiness - Regardless, being on the land is a beautiful life. Be forewarned though, It’s real. The land and livestock won’t lie to you. Pixelated mentors do not replace neighbors when the tractor is stuck. The mud and the grit is unavoidable. Mites do in-fact murder honeybees. Normal weather is abnormal. The equipment often breaks. And the wildlife is not cute. But the life is good. The children run free. The Ember Days are meaningful. The sunsets are brighter and the dance of cultivating and consuming life’s daily sustenance is one seamless waltz.
*Art Work courtesy of Harvey Dunn