Sunday, October 9, 2011

Politics, Parenting, Religion and....Food

After becoming a parent for the first time, I learned in a hurry that you oughtn’t speak too loudly or surely about your choices as you might come across as thinking your ways better than others. I find this is also true of farming. Except in both cases it is pretty much impossible to keep your ways to yourself as someone always gets an eye on what you’re doing.

How much television are your children watching? Can you control the tantrums in the grocery store? Are you feeding them white bread or brown? Did you breastfeed your kids? Put them in cloth diapers? Teach them to read before the age of 4? Did you choose a private school, to homeschool, unschool, send them to an alternative school? French school? 4H? Dance lessons? Violin lessons?

Do you have enough grass for your cows to graze on? How big did your garlic bulbs get this year? Are you feeding them organic feed? Are you milking them once, twice or three times? What kind of fence are you using? Do the animals get outside? Did you rotate your crops this year? Are you certified organic?

All of these questions are so precious. They are so untouchable between one parent and the next. One farmer and the next. Because dare you say that one way is better for you – it may assume you think it the best way for everyone. Dare someone say what is best for them, you may assume you are falling short.

I once shared my opinions about a certain US president with a friend of mine in Texas. The conversation ended with her suggesting we not talk about politics. Unexpectedly (because I naively believed that everyone I knew in the US would share my views), I had offended her when I had honestly believed it would be one more way to find common ground. We had been friends for decades, since before we reached our full heights and it seemed odd to me that we would ever hold a different view on these matters. But we did. And how. And I learned that it was best to shut my mouth.

It would seem that farming and parenting have their trip wires as dangerous as any political mine field. And often the best way to keep the peace is to keep your idears to your own self.

Recently, Sara Miles posted on Facebook an opinion about the current discourse on our food system. Sara Miles wrote an exellent book entitled ‘Take This Bread’ where she describes the journey she took from being a secular individual to one who is a great follower of Jesus Christ. She was one of the primary inspirations for me to baptize my children last year and to get baptized myself. There was something so forgiving and accepting in the way she had come from so far out in left field and found her way into a middle she never imagined she could feel at home in. It gave me hope that such a shift would be possible for me.

Here was this woman who led me by the hand through her thoughts and expressions towards a certain religion. Ironically now she was questioning my passion (or at least my approach) to food. Her words: I accept all arguments about the importance of local vegetables and community gardens and living wages for farmworkers and sustainability....and I the only one who sometimes thinks there's a little bit of idolatry in the current discourse around “good” food?

Needless to say, carrying on about one’s religious affiliations holds its own very real causes for war in this world, apparently. No small discussion. Best left for another day.

Idolatry. The act of putting something other than God above all else. The blind or excessive devotion to something. Can it be true that some people (me included) have become so obsessed and concerned with getting food ‘right’ that I was creating a distance between myself and others or God in the process? Was I so taken with my desire to grow and provide “good” food to my family and others that I had lost sight of the duality that I was creating?

It is only recently that I have concluded that talking about food has become yet another taboo subject. It does not surprise me that what was once a novel idea (to eat more simply, track the footprint of our diet, try and make food about health and prevention of illness) has now become a national obsession that ironically enables others to cash in on the deal. In other words, local or organic have become mainstream catch all phrases for even places like WalMart to earn a profit. I even find myself buying the ‘Farmer’s Market’ brand pies in the grocery store chains because it makes me feel like I’m supporting a farmer. Even though I absolutely and totally know that the whole thing begins and ends with the name.

New questions have arisen. Who grew your food? Is it organic? Certified or not? Local? How many miles? What was the food combined with? How was it processed? What was added to it? What was it packaged in?

I have no 'right' answers to any of these questions. I only know that to speak of them is to tread on potentially offensive ground with others. Politics, religion, parenting…and now food.

In short, best I shut my mouth?


  1. hmm, this book in the library??? I so want to check it out! Also, I recently donated a copy of Sara Elton's Locavore to the library in town. If you haven't read it - you have got to check it out. I learned quite a few things about small scale farming across the country - great read.

  2. Melissa- fun. Perhaps one I should get down on paper into that library of ours. Sarah Elton and I have been in touch - I read her book and she is interested in the rice we were growing on our farm. Almost visited this summer but it didn't work out. She is speaking in Ottawa Thursday/tomorrow at St. Pauls University as part of Field to Fork. I am going - its my bday prezzie to myself :) You?


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