There is, then, a politics of food that, like any politics, involves our freedom. We still (sometimes) 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. (Wendell Berry, “The Pleasures of Eating,” from What are People For? Berkeley: North Point Press, 1990.)
At the end of June a group of green-minded Presbyterians from around the United States took an eco-tour of Silicon Valley. They came to see the restoration of wetland habitats in downtown San Jose and to learn about high-tech recycling. Then they visited my church.
The congregation I serve has a large community garden and we were the first officially recognized green business in Silicon Valley. Our eco-friendly Calvinists visitors were interested in learning what it looks like when a church goes green.
The trouble is that a green church looks just about the same as any other church unless you look in our light sockets, where you will find those little highly efficient twirly bulbs, or in our janitor’s closet where you will find cleaning supplies that are less toxic than the stuff we use to buy. We also recycle, compost, and plant trees to offset our carbon output, but it didn’t seem like much to show empty bottles and rotting leftovers to our guests; and you can’t see a non-existent carbon footprint.
So we cooked an environmentally responsible meal for the visitors. One of the gardeners in the community garden donated carrots, beets, and onions. I purchased Italian sausage made at a butcher shop across the street from the church, and from a nearby bakery I picked up thirty linear feet of baguette. We pickled beets and roasted the carrots after dressing them with olive oil infused with lavender from the church’s landscaping. Rosemary from a hedge flavored the olive oil and balsamic vinegar bread dip. On the griddle we cooked the sausage with onions and beet greens. Dessert was fruit from neighborhood trees.
Almost fifty people ate lunch that day out under the shade of a venerable tree, and not a drop of carbon fuel was expended to get the meal’s main ingredients from the point of production to the table. Our only imports were olive oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, and garlic. The meal cost about $2.50 per person.
The food was excellent, but more importantly, the day’s menu freed us from our dependence upon an industrial and global food economy. It turns out that we don’t need supermarkets and big-box warehouse stores as much as we think we do. Eating locally is good for the creation and it can be both tasty and inexpensive. That’s a commendable combination.
Photo courtesy of Glenda Parmentier