The Food Chain

I have a little tradition going with my neighbors: when someone makes a dish and has some extra, we leave a little on someone else’s front porch. I grow jalapenos, cilantro, and parsley in my garden, and I’ve always enjoyed giving away extra to friends. Last summer I had an incredible batch of basil that yielded around 50 mason jars of pesto. It’s a little spicy, because I like adding Indian spices. A friend told me I should submit my pesto to a local contest—a compliment if I’ve ever heard one. There are some serious entries for that!

Of course I enjoy using them myself, but the pesto also makes great gifts. I’ve given away many jars. Also, sometimes I use homegrown and homemade foods like this to barter with neighbors for other food. Recently, a friend of mine was gifted 50 pounds of flour from another friend who had closed his pizza restaurant because of Covid-19. Naturally, she decided to make some bread. She posted pictures of her croissants, sourdough loaves, and pretzels on social media, and everything looked delicious. I messaged her, “Can I buy a roll from you?” And she wrote, “No, you can have it for free. In return, just buy a gift for local business or support a local business.” I said I’d love to (and I did!) and so it came to pass that she made a sourdough loaf and left it on her front porch for pickup, messaging me when it was ready.

I realized I still had jars of the pesto and thought it would be a nice gift. So I sanitized a jar, put it in a plastic bag, and left it in the same spot, letting her know that the pesto was for her. Soon after that, another friend asked if I would like some bagels he was making. When he gave me the bagels, I gave some pesto to him, too—a good exchange. He left the bagels on the front porch and grabbed the pesto I had left, then backed up so we could have a quick chat from a distance.

I’ve observed a lot of other people doing similar things. Recently another friend had posted on social media as part of a mutual aid group about a very specific need. She was caring for two young children with autism, and one had to have a specific brand of mac and cheese. (Otherwise the child just wouldn’t eat.) The supermarkets were all out of this specific brand; the shelves had been cleared. I think anyone who’s acquainted with the picky eating habits of young people could understand how important this request was for a child with special needs. I shared her social media post and ultimately people came to her rescue. She ended up with an abundance of that special macaroni brand. In those acts of kindness, people came together to create a heartwarming story of cooperation, support, and neighborly love.

I have a neighbor, Rachel, who’s heavily involved in the local food system. I know she and her colleagues are working incredibly hard to make sure that food from farmers can reach everyone who’s at home. They’ve been developing online systems that make it easier for folks to buy directly from farms. Fortunately, we also have a local year-round food market in Jonesborough that works around the clock to ensure that farmers have a place where they can drop their food so people can shop for fresh produce. This system is very important to our survival. I’m grateful for all the hard work that the farmers and other frontline food workers are doing to keep us fed. Not everyone has the option of working from home, and I’m fortunate to be able to do so.

Thinking about all these different levels and layers behind how we get our food, and all the work and cooperation that goes into it, reminded me a bit of a meditation that I did once when I went to a Buddhist retreat in northern England. It was to learn a Tibetan Buddhist breathing practice that I still use to this day. When I arrived, the monk started his meditation with a bowl of food. Before we started eating, he led the room in a gratitude meditation. He bowed his head, and offered words of gratitude that told a story of sorts: the story behind the food. He thanked the people who had planted the seeds, tilled the soil, harvested the crops, cut the crops, and made deliveries. He thanked everyone who had processed the food it and transported it to our specific location, and the people who had made the ceramic bowls from which we were eating. It helped me to see, even in the confines of a single meal, all the interconnectivity between people and animals and plant life before the various components of the meal had found its way to us. It was interesting and beautiful to realize how food can be an incredible means by which people work together in different ways, some of which we’re totally unaware. Some parts of the chain are more visible than others. It helps to remember that we are all interconnected—and that we need each other. Other people are always part of our story, even when it isn’t in a way that is obvious or that we can see.

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