Monday, May 19, 2008
Leaving the Narrow Place for the Open Fields
During Passover, Jews are asked to acknowledge the history of slavery. Not only should we "acknowledge" it: we should act as if we were personally enslaved and personally freed.
Many Jews ask what things in our selves and in our surroundings keep us enslaved now. Then we think about ways we might loosen those bonds and step away from our own Mitzrayim, our own narrow place--no matter how safe and cozy it might seem at any given moment. When we are able finally to make that first step, we will begin to see how constrained we have been. Only at that point is an end to freedom--and a start to independence--possible.
I spent a bit of my Passover thinking about how to become ready to make a change, how to be ready to abandon the things that hold us back even if they seem to put us in such a secure place right now.
Many parts of my own personal narrow place are internal personality traits--parts of my self that hold me (and those around me) back from where we could go. One is my sometimes-extreme shyness. Another is my fear of anger, whether it is in myself or in others (anger towards me or towards others). Yet another is my reluctance to do or say anything that could make me stand out too much. And a biggie: I think about big issues until they are fully dissected, get depressed (too often in a too serious way), and do nothing about whatever the issues are.
But here we are, my family, ready to make some big steps out of our narrow place.
* * *
One way out of our Mitzrayim seems to be increasing food security both for us and for our community.
For a long time, my family has sought to eat a diet (and live a life more generally) less dependent on corporate consumerism and more reliant on the local economy of small business and small farmers. We attempt to purchase mostly foods without labels. (Ah--wouldn't the nutrition police fall over dead? No label to read?! Surely that is not healthy....)
This year we've expanded our garden to grow more of our diet in the back yard--our very tiny "postage stamp of native soil" which will really just be a symbolic way to help us understand more about how food is produced. Some of the old pros who do this (on a much larger scale in an only slightly smaller yard) call it the "path to freedom." They've launched the 100 Foot Diet challenge to help us connect with other people doing the same thing. I've mentioned their challenge before.
We've also made a serious commitment to prepare now so we will be able to keep up our non-corporate eating during the winter and early spring. And for this, the brilliant Sharon issued her own challenge:
Sharon asks us to create "food independence" (and to a degree, independence from a fossil-fuel-led society more generally) by regularly trying to, as Sharon lays out:
1. Plant something.
...The idea that you should plant all week and all year is a good reminder to those of us who sometimes don’t get our fall gardens or our succession plantings done regularly. Remember, that beet you harvested left a space - maybe for the next one to get bigger, but maybe for a bit of arugula or a fall crop of peas, or a cover crop to enrich the soil. Independence is the bounty of a single seed that creates an abundance of zucchini, and enough seeds to plant your own garden and your neighbor’s.
2. Harvest something.
From the very first nettles and dandelions to the last leeks and parsnips I drag out of the frozen ground, harvest something from the garden or the wild every day you can. I can’t think of a better way to be aware of the bounty around you to realize that there’s something -- even if it is dandelions for tea or wild garlic for a salad -- to be had every single day. Independence is really appreciating and using the bounty that we have.
3. Preserve something.
Sometimes this will be a big project, but it doesn’t have to be. It doesn’t take long to slice a couple of tomatoes and set them on a screen in the sun, or to hang up a bunch of sage for winter. And it adds up fast. The time you spend now is time you don’t have to spend hauling to the store and cooking later. Independence is eating our own, and cutting the ties we have to agribusiness.
4. Prep something.
Hit a yard sale and pick up an extra blanket. Purchase some extra legumes and oatmeal. Sort out and inventory your pantry. Make a list of tools you need. Find a way to give what you don’t need to someone who does. Fix your bike. Fill that old soda bottle with water with a couple of drops of bleach in it. Plan for next year’s edible landscaping. Make back-road directions to your place and send it to family in case they ever need to come to you - or make ‘em for yourself for where you might have to go.... Independence is being ready for whatever comes.
5. Cook something. Try a new recipe, or an old one with a new ingredient. Sometimes it is hard to know what to do with all that stuff you are growing or making. So experiment now. Can you make a whole meal in your solar oven? How are stir-fried pea shoots? Stuffed squash blossoms? Wild morels in pasta? Independence is being able to eat and enjoy what is given to us.
6. Manage your reserves. Check those apples and take out the ones starting to go bad and make sauce with it. Label those cans. Clean out the freezer. Ration the pickles, so you’ll have enough to last to next season. Use up those lentils before you take the next ones out of the bag. Find some use for that can of whatever it is that’s been in the pantry forever. Sort out what you can donate, and give it to the food pantry. Make sure the squash are holding out. Independence means not wasting the bounty we have.
7. Work on local food systems. This could be as simple as buying something you don’t grow or make from a local grower, or finding a new local source. It could be as complex as starting a coop or a farmer’s market, creating a CSA or a bulk store. You might give seeds or plants or divisions to a neighbor, or solicit donations for your food pantry. Maybe you’ll start a guerilla garden or help a homeschool coop incubate some chicks. Maybe you’ll invite people over to your garden, or your neighbors in for a homegrown meal, or sing the praises of your local CSA. Maybe you can get your town to plant fruit or nut producing street trees or get a manual water pump or a garden put in at your local school. Whatever it is, our Independence days come when our neighbors and the people we love are food secure too.
Participants had lots of creative ideas for tweaking the rules--moving things out of one listing into their own categories in order to emphasize them more--or adding things entirely new. Some of my favorite additions:
8. Store something (edible) you'll need in the future so you won't have to go to the market as often.
9. Reduce waste, Compost.
10. Clean something, Mend something, Make do.
11. Learn a new skill, or practice one you are learning.
Coming soon: how we're taking our first steps along this new road.