Eating Local, in Season…and with Grace

The other day, my mom brought us a bag of frozen blueberries, because she knew our boys like to have them as a snack, and we were out of blueberries. While I appreciated the gesture, I hesitated. Why?! Why, you might ask, would you hesitate, when your kids’ nana brings them a HEALTHY snack (as opposed to sending them home hyped up on sugar, like many loving nanas are wont to do)?

Well, I hesitated, because blueberries are one of those things that I try to hold a little bit sacred as a food that we eat in season, or until our local, u-pick batch runs out from the previous summer. If the boys didn’t want to stay in the field long enough to get enough berries to last through the entire year in the freezer, tough luck. No more blueberries until June.

Have you ever tasted a sun-warmed Oregon blueberry, fresh off the blueberry bush? Sweet and tangy, warm and luscious: just the right amount of squish and substance.

blueberries
Picking blueberries when my now-10-year-old was about a year-and-a-half young. (Look at those cheeks!!!)

Truth be told, my boys generally don’t want to spend any more time in the field because they have eaten so many that they have nearly made themselves sick. We’re working on that…one year at a time.

At any rate, all year long, blueberries remind us of the summer, of seasonality, of waiting and longing and hope. They remind us that sometimes, we go without—something we as Americans are not used to practicing often or for extended periods of time.

Well, we ran out of blueberries recently, and only made it about half way until the next blueberry season.

“Mom, why can’t we just buy more at the store?” asked my 10-year-old.

“Well, because it reminds us to eat things that grow here, when they’re growing, or to think ahead and plan well enough that we have what we need for the whole year,” I replied.

But, my mom took pity on the boys, and got us some Costco blueberries, and I hesitated, but then I said, “Sure.” Because there’s idealism, and then there’s legalism. There are best intentions in teaching lessons through life experiences, but there also needs to be grace for the times we fail to live up to our own (or other people’s) standards.

Anyway, what do we replace the bedtime snack with when we run out of blueberries? Graham crackers! And who knows what is in Graham crackers or where the ingredients are grown or the product is manufactured? Not me!

Lessons I’m learning from this, and you’re welcome to join me:

1) Sometimes it’s easy to get so caught up in one cherished rule or standard (even one set by oneself) that following it has consequences that are the opposite of what your rule or standard intends.

2) Pick more blueberries.

3) Looking back at the last several years to note and celebrate my family’s progress on eating more seasonally and food from our region:

  • 4 years ago, I made the commitment to eat one thing each day that I had grown or acquired locally, and did so almost every day of the year.
  • 3 years ago, I decided to try for at least one thing a meal that I grew or acquired locally, and did this for a majority of meals that year.
  • During this time, I also learned to can and preserve new things, which continues our ability to eat locally or personally-grown food throughout the year.
  • Last year, a friend started the Newberg Dundee Food Buying Club, and a network of folks in our town are able to access food grown by farmers in our region, much of it organic/grass fed/cage free, at relatively reasonable prices because we purchase it together. As this network grows, we’re able to get more and more of our food locally and affordably!

4) Giving myself and others grace when we fail, and celebrating the successes. Baby steps, y’all! We can’t change everything all at once, but we can change SOMEthing. As Margaret Mead put it, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Book review published: Good Food

I recently reviewed a book called Good Food: Grounded Practical Theologyy by Jennifer Ayres (Baylor University Press, 2013) for the Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature, & Culture. You can see the review here.

Jennifer Ayres
Jennifer Ayres

While I was a bit critical of the book for the review, I did actually like it. What I didn’t like was that Ayres said she was doing “grounded practical theology,” specifically saying she’s using the social sciences research method of grounded theory, but she did not do that. I’d like to see more theologians utilize social sciences methods, but if we’re going to do so, we need to do so well! Otherwise, if we try to use the language of social sciences but we do the research poorly (within that methodology), it doesn’t help us.

That said, I did like the book, and I appreciated how she developed her theology of food. She did so by telling stories as well as finding the theology of food present within the scriptural text, and I think this is really important to recover in this day and age.

As a Quaker, I acknowledge that our lack of physical Eucharist makes it difficult for us to really make use of this kind of table imagery, which is an excellent entry point into environmental care, interconnectedness with the rest of creation, and those sorts of liturgical resources present in most of the rest of Christianity. When I think of the Eucharist as an actual meal, one that physically ties us to a particular place, time, and community, while also reminding us of the sustenance we get from God, I have a lot more respect for the practice of the physical elements in communion. That said, I would rather recover the actual table fellowship practice of eating a meal together, as it seems many early Christians practiced, rather than a commercial-grade wafer and tiny cup of grape juice from who-knows-where, as is practiced by most church communities. Eating a meal grown from the land around one’s region is a great practice that can connect us with the ecology, economy, and society in which we live, as well as with Christ, giving thanks (eu-charisto) for the grace-filled sustenance we receive each day.