By: Dana Swanson
The cornucopia, overflowing with vibrant colors and shapely gourds, serves as the centerpiece for this traditional November feast. Deeply hued cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie garnished with whipping cream and a bronzed turkey arranged upon a platter – iconic images of everyone’s favorite gluttonous holiday.
When we think of Thanksgiving, the image that comes to mind is of family and friends gathered around a table of steaming food, autumnal aromas tickling our nostrils as we break bread – and our belt buckles – together. Careful not to scald our palms, we share our mashed potatoes and cornbread, giving thanks for the bounty of the year’s harvest.
In my family, it is tradition for everyone to go around the table and share some things we are thankful for. Between ambrosial bites, it isn’t commonplace to contemplate where the food - now rapidly disappearing from the table - came from. Actually, there is usually chatter concerning who brought the cheesy cauliflower dish, but nothing about the field where that cauliflower spent its days before meeting the cheddary goodness.
Living in an age of supermarkets and Big Macs, it is easy to overlook where food comes from. Seduced by food already prepared – stuffing in a box or cranberry sauce from a can – we don’t realize how deeply eating impacts the Earth. According to environmentalist and farmer Wendell Berry, the fact that the industrial eater doesn’t realize eating is an agricultural act renders him or her a victim; passive and uncritical consumers, industrial eats consume food unaware of the connections between eating and the Earth. When we buy potatoes from Brazil, we are supporting a food system marinated in fossil fuels. From petroleum-based chemicals used to combat pests and weeds to the gasoline it takes to ship a potato thousands of miles, our food economy is contingent upon sources of fossil fuels. In "The Pleasures of Eating," Berry offers some additional insight on the politics of food:
“We still remember that we cannot be free if our minds and voices are controlled by someone else. But we have neglected to understand that we cannot be free if our food and its sources are controlled by someone else. The condition of the passive consumer of food is not a democratic condition. One reason to eat responsibly is to live free.”Berry proposes that a significant part of the pleasure of eating comes from one’s knowledge of the lives and the world from which food comes. In other words, by recognizing the connections between eating and the land, one becomes more than a passive consumer. By realizing we are participants in agriculture, we might begin to ask questions - where did this food come from?
For all meals, but especially for the meal with a holiday all its own, I challenge you to consider where your food comes from. Be a responsible consumer; choose a free-range turkey rather than an industrial raised butterball. As your fork clinks against your plate this Thanksgiving, let freedom ring.
Wendell Berry’s “The Pleasures of Eating,” as well as other musings on food, can be found in Food & Faith: Justice, Joy and Daily Bread, available for purchase from the Earth Ministry Online Store.