What I'm figuring out about eating food from Michigan is: while it's eminently possible to eat locally on a budget, it's not possible to eat locally when your life is on auto-pilot. And I only call it auto-pilot because that's what the daily routine of glossing over life's small and meaningful moments (in an effort to get where?) seems like to me. And also because I remember my own "soylent green" moment of having the auto-pilot unceremoniously switched off while watching a video of animals in factory farms (thanks to Whole Foods' John Mackey, no less). Somehow it took seeing chickens with their beaks cut off for it to dawn on me that I personally was contributing on a daily basis to practices of corporate greed that my conscious self finds anathema. And paying real dollars for the privilege.
So, it's possible to hear the phone but still not take the call. That's what auto-pilot is, right? What made me take the call? Only that I believe that food in its many forms is an expression of love, and either the lack or the presence of it. On every level. The level of growing it, the level of choosing it, the level of preparing it, the level of serving it and the level of eating it. If there are so many ways for food to be connected with love, how could I embrace some and but choose to remain blind to others?
A surprising side effect of choosing to know where my food comes from is that I don't crave sweets. Or chips. Or bananas. I don't need huge portions or lots of salt. Other people find their bliss in dance or calligraphy or meditation or Wheel of Fortune, but I seem to have found mine in Rebecca's blue and green and brown eggs and Tantre's corn and beans and cucumbers and Calder Dairy's milk and butter and my homemade granola.
The next level on which food is an expression of love (or of its absence) is one that I've just begun to explore. That would be the level about the physical place where food comes from and the people whose care and hard work brings it to me. That's the level that's about land, farms, geography and community. It's about choosing to love my dear home place.
It seems like a lot of our towns are in tatters these days because we've forgotten or been too embarrassed or too busy to really love, protect and commit to the communities where we live. Like a neglected child with few people willing to stand up for it, no wonder Michigan has such a huge inferiority complex. Of course there's the "buy local" movement these days which seems like a pale expression of love, but an expression nonetheless.
But what if everyone switched off the auto-pilot and talked to their neighbors and learned about the history of their communities and paid attention to what their political representative are doing and learned where their food came from? What if we held ourselves accountable for making the kind of world we really want to live in instead of the world of Lunchables that we've made so far? I guess I still believe that we might be smart enough and care enough as communities to find our way to making our standard be long-term health over short-term profit.
Once again revealing what a total sap I am, every time I eat a potato that comes from Chelsea or from Brooklyn, Michigan I'm thinking about how I'm becoming part of the land where I live and it is becoming part of me. I love knowing that somebody cared about that potato every step along the way to my fork and that somebody cares about growing potatoes to feed their community again next year. That connection feeds me in ways far beyond caloric combustion.
I'm sure my grandparents would think this is all just self-indulgent navel-gazing since of course they knew where their food came from. But it's because of what we take for granted, when we're on auto-pilot, that things we love fade away if we fail to protect and care for them. Times have changed since my grandparents knew where their food came from and I'll bet they wish they could have an ear of corn like the Illini Chief my grampa used to grow when my sister and I spent the summers at their house.
The amazing secret about knowing where your food comes from, and loving the community that gave it to you, is that the gnawing hunger of frustration fades away and in its place is a presence that can only be called love.