By Bill Palladino
We are deep into the season of sacred traditions. The crisp darkness of winter brings with it many celebrations, each anticipating the light yet to come. And strangely, it is the darkest nights that reveal the most stars. This time of year we are given the gift of seeing things previously unseen. Religious and secular practices call to our attention the longest night of the winter solstice, Hanukkah’s victory of the Maccabees, the transformative fires of Yule, the first fruits and seven principles of Kwanzaa, and the Christmastime birth of Jesus Christ.
The common thread throughout this myriad of sacred traditions, beyond prayer and candles, is the gathering of family and friends, always with celebrations of food. But is it enough to keep food as something sacred only during the holidays? I am fearful we are quickly losing this connection, as the way we eat begins to mirror the brief, staccato, way we’ve come to communicate.
The cherished process of preparing, serving and eating food with others is something we inherently know as sacred. We gather with others around tables, and we say grace. We bow our heads in thanks. We hold each other’s hands and rejoice for what we are about to receive. We thank God, or Allah, or Mother Earth. And then with intentional reverence, we eat.
A practice of connectedness accompanies this idea of the sacred. How do we reach beyond the bounds of our contentment to understand someone across the table, or a whole world away? How do we put aside our differences, if for only a moment, to come close enough to see the pain in the eyes of a stranger or quiet ourselves long enough to hear another’s cries? These questions seem to be all the more relevant to the challenging political realities upon us today.
Food is an obvious and distinct answer. Food has the fortunate quality of causing us to stop talking as we consume it. Food allows us to experience commonality and difference in a safe setting. We can still argue at the table, with the act of sharing a simple meal providing the neutral ground upon which we rejoin the peace. We smile again, while still happily fork-deep in the debate. Shouldn’t we demand this same dynamic throughout the year, at all of our meals?
Writer and economist John Ikerd has said: “The food that sustains our lives comes from other living things. If life is sacred, then food and farming must be sacred as well.” It’s difficult not to agree with this statement, and there’s no need to be religious to do so.
One path toward regaining sacredness for our food is to know where it comes from, who raised it, prepared it, delivered it and readied it for our taking. Only when we know something can we revere it.
Today, we are separated too far from our food, as we expect it to come to us fast, with anonymity and with the greatest of convenience. It is up to us to change our relationship to food and begin embracing the sacred in all that we eat while demanding that our food is worthy of the honor.
Bill Palladino is Chief Operating Officer at Taste the Local Difference. He will be giving the keynote address at this year’s Northern Michigan Small Farm Conference where he will be expanding on this and other ideas regarding local food’s role in our lives.
This article was originally published as part of the Agriculture Forum in the Traverse City Record-Eagle newspaper.