One of my previous blog posts focused on our efforts to change a local zoning bylaw to make it legal to raise backyard hens. A side effect of this work has been several interviews with the local press, in which I am invariably asked why I raise hens.
Frankly, I don’t always tell the whole truth.
I tend to talk about my desire to uncouple from the industrial food system and factory farms that contribute to diminishing fossil fuels, the threat of pandemic, and global climate change. I also talk about my desire to be more self-sufficient and to have food to give to my neighbors as the reasons for growing a garden and raising hens. And this is all true…. but not quite complete. The truth is…..
…raising my own food also gives me with a spiritual connection with Mother Earth.
Going out in the morning before work to check for eggs and “say hello to the ladies,” is a daily reminder of my connection with all of life. It is away to reaffirm that we are part of – rather than apart from Mother Nature. If I do this simple act with mindfulness, it can be a brief spiritual moment at the start of my day.
What and how we eat food can also be a sacred experience (or not).
Putting food in our bodies is the most intimate act we do on a regular basis (generally more often than sex). Eating food can either be a sterile, hurried act, offering little cause for joy – or a creative, spiritual act of connecting with other people, the earth – and thus with all of Creation. According to Wendell Berry “when food… is no longer associated with farming and with the land, then the eaters are suffering a kind of cultural amnesia that is misleading and dangerous.” This amnesia prevents us from realizing the contribution food makes to our lives as a source of both physical and spiritual nourishment.
Berry presents a few ideas on how we may free ourselves from this amnesia when he suggests that we:
- participate in food production to the extent that we can,
- prepare our own food,
- learn the origins of the food we buy,
- deal directly with a local farmer, and;
- learn more about the biology, ecology and sociology of our food.
I would add to the list, composting all usable kitchen and garden waste (cycle of life).
How we grow food and what we eat is a reflection of our relationship with Mother Earth. If we are willing to accept continued dependence on a mechanized, specialized and industrial agricultural system, we will remain disconnected from the land, from Mother Earth, and perhaps from the Divine. While an increasing number of people seem to desire a more intimate relationship with the earth through good food, most simply assume that industrial agriculture is a necessary component of an efficient global economy.
Francis Moore Lappe’ challenges this assumption when she asks; “why do we tolerate rules of economic life that violate our sense of the sacred“? At the heart of this question is a tension between the economic world we know and the sacred world many of us desire.
Collecting my own eggs from backyard hens makes little economic sense, as industrial eggs are really cheap. But I am more than an economic being. Lappe’ writes: “only as we leave behind this false notion of the economic self will we be able to critique and resist economic rules that violate our deepest intuitions about our most basic human values, including… our need to cherish the sacred.”
Growing and eating our own food or purchasing from people we know can be both an economic and a sacred act. Most Americans however worship the economic act, while ignoring the deeper, sacred implications.
E.F. Schumacher seems to agree when he wrote in his classic text, Small is Beautiful….
“the crude materialist sees agriculture as essentially directed toward food production. A wider view sees agriculture as having to fulfill at least three tasks:
- “to keep man in touch with living nature, of which he is… a highly vulnerable part;
- to humanize and ennoble man’s wider habitat; and
- to bring forth the foodstuffs and other materials which are needed for… life.”
It seems that Schumacher is acknowledging the need to serve both the economic and the sacred self (if we can look past the sexist language in this 1970’s text). He continues…
“I do not believe that a civilization which recognizes only the third of these tasks, and which pursues it with such ruthlessness and violence that the other two tasks are… systematically counteracted, has any chance of long-term survival.”
Strong language! But I generally agree. Hens raised in battery cages (for the efficiency required to keep the eggs cheap) are treated with ruthlessness and violence.
But it is not only the chickens that suffer from the industrial system!
Industrial agriculture has been eminently successful at displacing millions of people from the land, thus reducing the opportunity for most of us to have a personal relationship with our food and with Mother Earth. Disconnection from the earth is a human disease, perhaps contributing to an increase in drug, alcohol and prescription drug use in the U.S.
Rediscovering the sacred is an act of healing – or perhaps remembering. In forgetting the sacred we have become unhealthy and un-whole. From this place of illness, we ask the wrong questions and seek after the false-gods of consumerism and superficial amusements. I believe we must rediscover ways to reconnect with the earth, perhaps by growing our own food, raising a few hens (for the eggs and the laughs), and buying real food from people in our own communities we know and trust, if we are to heal the damage we have caused to the global ecosystem and the human soul. What do you think?
Please share your own thoughts below.
Berry, W. 1990. The pleasures of eating. IN: What are People For? North Point Press. San Francisco.
Moore Lappe’, F. 1990. Food, Farming, and Democracy. IN: Our Sustainable Table. Ed. R. Clark. North Point Press. San Francisco.
Schumacher, E.F. 1972. Small is Beautiful. Harper & Row.
This blog was adapted from an essay I wrote; Agriculture is a business, a lifestyle, and a conversation with the universe.
I’d appreciate it if you would share this post with your friends. And for more ideas, videos and challenges along these lines, please join my Facebook Group; Just Food Now. And go here for more of my World.edu posts.