At your next holiday supper, while passing around hot cornbread, squash, greens or apple pie, scoot back from the table a moment and digest one nutritious truth: Food connects — person to person, people to planet.
Everyone eats, no matter of what political persuasion, religion, race or old codified dispute. Food offers one thing even squabbling humans can exchange agreeably. That’s borderline miraculous, in these contentious times.
“No politics or religion,” my sister-in-law instructed her liberal kids one past Thanksgiving, before their conservative cousins arrived. “No immigration or fracking. No solar tech or tar sands. And please, no weather!”
Weather? Hearing this humorous etiquette remix amazed me. Hadn’t weather always provided people our most innocent, connective topic? Rain, snow, creeks and tides were at one time our common, obvious reality, not a fractious debate.
But today, we don’t share much reality from the world outside the door. We’re indoors, downloading mass-produced info from afar — little of it intended to convey reality.
So today, even weather talk can induce indigestion for families that, like mine, include climate-change “believers” and “deniers.” It’s one of countless volatile topics dividing our nation, our leaders, our workplaces, even our religious denominations.
Thus, it’s often thought wise just to keep such topics off the table. And that’s a waste.
We humans have a feast of problems to chew on, these days — troubles too big to be solved by one “side” or the other, much less by avoidance.
If no group—from family to Congress—can gather round for a goodwill, agape-meal discussion of matters as obvious and vital as land, sea and sky, is anything left on the table to connect us?
Yes, blessedly enough. Food itself is still on the table. And it’s inspiring an expansive conversation, judging from the booming grassroots food movement.
This local-growers phenomenon is currently reconnecting water quality, soil rehab and small farmers to the supper table. It’s also restoring human dialogue — even between left and right.
“Republican, Democrat, Tea Party and Green Party members are all engaged,” says farming activist Gary Paul Nabhan. “They converge around the notion that we all have a right to access and eat food that truly nourishes our bodies and communities.”
That “community” includes the whole web of life, in Beaufort, N.C.
Here, a traditional small-scale fishing economy was nearly wiped out by the industrial seafood distribution system and overfished waters.
Local catches that did get harvested were trucked off to northern markets and lost in a mass-distribution shuffle.
Everything local was losing — fishermen, economy, even coastal waters unhinged from any sense of local stake or stewardship. Rural and city politics lost touch, breeding distrust and resentment.
Today, the Walking Fish community-supported fishery (CSF) is restoring those links — reviving a statewide fish market, small-scale fishing businesses, and a unity-restoring economic flow between urban and rural populations. The revived circuitry, meanwhile, has restored local and state interest in coastal ecology.
This initial CSF was inspired by CSA (community-supported agriculture), the kind currently springing up around the mid-Atlantic.
In eastern Philadelphia, a busy urban farm has reclaimed an abandoned Superfund site in a low-income neighborhood.
The soil now restored, Greensgrow Farm serves local residents through a CSA, an onsite nursery and booming market, nutrition/cooking workshops and other outreach. As co-founder Mary Seton Corboy puts it, the farm is growing not just food but “people and neighborhoods.”
Another community farm — Lynchburg Grows, in Virginia — likewise reclaimed a toxic-waste site, now thriving with gardens, greenhouses and volunteers of diverse ages, races and economic backgrounds, working side by side.
In the nation’s capital, D.C. Central Kitchen is meanwhile recirculating life between wealthy and low-income neighborhoods, the unemployed and food service jobs, the homeless and housing, schoolkids and elder neighbors.
This expansive network also reconnects tons of surplus food to people who need it, reducing hunger, health costs, landfill waste and greenhouse gases.
And how about that other D.C. network — Congress?
Well, Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio is talking up a policy change to shift federal subsidies of health-tanking, environment-taxing industrial ag to local, sustainable farms and food programs.
Healthier foods reduce diabetes, heart disease and healthcare costs, Ryan says. And they restore connections between humans, ecology, economy, education and even climate.
Already they’ve improved the climate in my own family.
The conservative cousins rescued and revived an old farm. They raise goats, hens and produce, and are glad to discuss animal rights and soil conservation. A liberal cousin has pitched in with the work.
Now the holiday table is abuzz with gritty, hilarious and connective talk — of compost, hen-scratch, greens, ornery goats and (naturally) the weather.
Liza Field (LField@wcc.vccs.edu) is a teacher, hiker and tree planter who writes from Southwest Virginia. Distributed by Bay Journal News Service.