Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Meaning of Food

Once when I was a teenager, my family decided to look after a pregnant goat, to decide if we wanted a goat for ourselves or not. Unfortunately, she died while giving birth, but one of her kids, a cute little boy, survived. We raised him by hand and named him Frost. Unfortunately, male goats are not very useful--they don't give milk, they cost a lot to take care of, and if they aren't fixed they become smelly and aggressive. When our baby grew up, he was sold to a family acquaintance who resold him to a family who had him for dinner. I was devastated.  I even replaced my hamburger patty with french fries in protest (my vegetarian stint lasted a single meal).

In college, my plant physiology professor enjoyed making allusions to people while explaining how plants work. "When you're eating a peanut or a pea, you're eating a tiny baby plant that never had a chance to live," he said. The students chuckled and went home to eat their peanut butter and canned peas without a second thought. While not as dramatic or emotional as butchering an animal, I have felt a quick sense of sadness when harvesting spinach or carrots. We nurtured that plant, and it beat the odds of surviving in our infertile backyard, only to be killed now.

The facts of life are simple: in order for us to live, something must die. Some people try to skate around this by assuming that certain species are more important than others. Most don't even think about it. But the fact remains. We cannot create our own energy--we must take it from something else. This is where the homesteader philosophy comes in--the idea that our culture has lost something vital by separating itself from its food source. If your meat shows up wrapped in plastic, or your dinner shows up in a cardboard box, you forget where it comes from. You don't have to think. You don't have to feel.

If you do think about it, you might find that eating is a very religious thing to do. Doesn't it bring to mind Someone else who sacrificed His life so that we could live? My religious teachers taught that the earth is a school and the Atonement is the subject. They would say that every time you eat a meal, you are being taught about sacrifice.

Whether or not you are religious, when you accept that other living things have died so that you can live, it brings to mind one very important question: what am I doing with my (and their) life? I remember as a teenager thinking about the sacrifices that parents make for their children. I knew that repaying them was impossible, but I was not bothered by this. I thought that the way to repay them is to make that sacrifice myself someday and pass on the gifts I had been given. As we continue eating and continue living, the solution becomes as simple as its cause: If something must die for us to live, let us live in the best way we can. Let us make their sacrifices worth it.

Every once and awhile, people may stop to wonder about the purpose of life and what they are doing with their own. Perhaps we are offered the chance to reflect at every single meal. What are we doing with the life that so many have sacrificed to create?

In addition, we have a holiday to reflect on the previous year and to be grateful for our blessings. Harvest celebrations are an important part of cultures all over the world, but ours has been degraded to a day of gluttony. Thanksgiving is not Turkey day any more than Christmas is x-mas. Thanksgiving is a day to reflect on the lives that have touched ours, including the bounty that nature and nature's God have given us. It is a day to remember our own dependency. It is a day to connect with family and friends, who are after all in the same boat. Repayment for our blessings is impossible. This Thanksgiving, I challenge us to ask ourselves what we are doing with our life, and to determine what we need to do to make our lives worthy of the sacrifices they have been given.