November 27, 2014
James, a neighbor from down the road, and I visited over coffee last Tuesday at the Cougar Den. I watched a young man walk in, his Resistol worn and dirty, the Carhartt wore in but not tattered, and his boot and jeans muddy below the knee. I wondered if he had been feeding or at the stockyard when James brought me out of my trance saying he had been putting up squash before he left the house. Belinda and I haven’t thought about squash for two weeks. During the first hard frosts, we put up as much squash as we had time for. But when a cold snap froze the remaining garden squash to the core (photo), we figured we turn it into good roughage for the cattle and goats. So, when James said he was still putting up squash, he had my attention.
Sure enough, his squash had frozen same as ours during those eight-degree mornings. However, instead of figuring it all was going for cattle and goat feed, he gathered what he thought he had time put up and stuffed it into the haystack—to insulate and keep frozen. Ever since, when he has the time, he canned and froze squash.
I believe James’ work needs attention. James raises a good size garden each year with the intent of providing a fair portion of the family’s food come summer, fall, winter, and a bit of the spring. When ones work is producing food for family consumption, conserving that food is important. Who cares the squash froze? Considering the work that went into raising squash, it makes sense to conserve it well. Being a conservationist calls one to imagine how to eat a frozen garden. It also calls one to use garden leftovers. James tills about half the leftover garden into the soil and the rest he feeds to cattle, goats, and chickens.
On this food abundant day (for most American households), I ponder food conservation and food spirituality. Most American households find themselves two or more generations removed from food production. Many continue the tradition by gardening, and though the garden is a far cry from what the family once raised on the small farm or ranch, the garden reminds the gardener of how life was and what good food should be. However, many do not garden any longer and the human separation from food production has led to an amazing amount of food lost.
A few years ago I attended a catered event for an organization whose portfolio, in part, is concerned with farmworkers and food production. The catered dinner plate had a half chicken for each person. Little surprise, when the caterers removed dinner plates to make way for dessert, hundreds of chicken quarters were dumped into garbage cans.
When community forgets the work of tilling, planting, caring for plant or animal growth—weeding and feeding—and harvesting, the significance of food diminishes. Diminishing food worth leads to decreasing food conservation. Leftovers go into the garbage disposal or to the refrigerator where too often it molds and then heads to the garbage disposal.
Community has a need for conservatives. Conservatism calls for a remembering of yesterday’s ideals. Maybe not lock, stock, and barrel—I have little interest in a well-built outhouse, but community needs to reclaim the goodness and created worth of soil, water, animals, and plants. It would not hurt community a bit to recall good land practices, imagination, and commitment to good food. Such conservatism comes by way of simple practice, i.e., fully deboning the Thanksgiving turkey after the meal, placing those bones in a pot with water and simmer, freezing the stock for future dinners, and using it. Such conservatism is engaging food in a spiritual manner.
I remember the furrow in James’ brow a few months ago when he spoke about how folks separation from food production has led to horrific practices. To make his point, James talked about the practice of turkey bowling. Turkey bowling is when folk set up pins (pins might be anything from cardboard boxes to pop bottles) at one end of a floor. Then at the other end, a person picks up a frozen turkey and throws it. The turkey slides down the floor until it knocks down the pins at the other end. It is common to see media outlets use turkey bowling as a marketing ploy, or non-profits and churches use it to raise money. Such disregard for the life of a bird, raised and then killed for food, is immoral and an example of what Christians call sin—the opposite of treating food spiritually.
Imaging how to keep food after freezing in eight-degree weather or having water infused with the essence of turkey is spiritual practice. Spiritual practice affirms the wholeness and goodness of life given so we might live. Such practice recognizes what is already true, human creation, plant creation, and animal creation, (bottom line, all of creation) are wedded one to the other. Humanities spiritual wellbeing is the intimate spiritual wellbeing of all. To know good life on this day of food abundance is to have or create spiritual practices honoring the planting, raising, harvesting, cooking, and conservation of food.
*Turkey Bowling Photo: http://insiderimages.photoshelter.com/image/I0000HWBo_QDZk5E