This is not a post about politics. It’s not an article about place, belonging, identity, self-esteem, or basic humanity. It’s about food.
This meal is 75% from around here. The potatoes and dill came from the farm I waited all winter and most of spring to see open. The garlic scapes, from the first farm stand where I saw the honour box payment system in effect. The asparagus is from a farm I can (and do) walk to, and the arugula, spinach, and edible all come from our own garden plot, the radishes, from a neighbour and new friend.
The ability to gather or grow food is one of the most basic requirements for survival. If you have access to earth, and the beginnings of a plant life, you can feed yourself. If you can feed yourself, you can live. We know this. And yet. Should-be-fresh produce drives, flies, and sails across the globe, imports and exports passing each other like ships in the night. Literally.
In the past couple of years, I’ve had the opportunity to become more familiar with immigration-related situations that have reminded me of the interesting ways in which we relate to place, to the right to exist in a place, the right to expel or attempt to expel others from a place. It’s given me the chance to better appreciate how important the back-to-basics actions are. Amidst the pomposity, false sense of privilage and right, and absence of basic logic that enshrouds bureaucracy of all kinds, simple acts–placing a seed in soil, watering it, watching it emerge–keep the world turning, and keep us alive. Not just literally.
I remember my father every day, mostly in a cocoon of confusion and denial. His death after an illness for a handful of baffling months still feels unreal. The day we planted him in a seed pod of a box under a shady tree off a street we used to drive every day is a haze I choose not to remember deeply. I take solace in what does make sense: that a row of carrot seeds, planted, will produce tiny, feathery fronds that thicken to deep orange fingers forking their way down towards the earth’s core. The life cycle of human beings don’t make sense, especially the end. But I can comprehend that kale planted late last year will produce larger and larger leaves, grow taller and taller, then finally flower, produce seed pods, then sigh its way back into the earth as compost that fuels the next crop of growth, that makes a richer loam for its own kin.
I don’t think of myself as a political vegan, but I am. Yes, I choose to be vegan for reasons of animal rights, to some extent. But what drives me, what sets me alive, is the ability to connect with the basic humanness, with our own earthiness, by eating what comes out of the ground in purer forms, by taking charge of what we consume. As my new friend, the lady who gifted me with a fistful of French Breakfast radishes, said when I gave her some arugula as thanks, “I will eat this tonight. It will become part of me.” I sometimes eat food out of boxes, yes. But what drives my veganness is that it’s the opposite of distanced, disempowered eating, of eating of karmically fucked food shipped from far away by people underpaid for harvesting crops that have been sprayed with death and offered up to fuel our life.
Typical Bahamian fare as I grew up knowing it involved a cavalcade of often delicious, but often almost always nutritionally barren foods. What most people jonesed for was a lineup of deep-fried greasy fare with barely a lettuce leaf to augment the oil. Most meals out at typical places featured pallid frozen veg as the only greens, and the process of boiling them to death rendered these already flaccid items an appalling grey. Bleached-out grains raped of nutrition, enriched with ironic sugar cane. In the Bahamas, sugar wasn’t a plantation slavery crop as it was elsewhere, but the general regional and racial irony of being fucked by the same crops Black people were once forced to produce is simply ridiculous. Check out the health stats of many of the formally colonized or enslaved people: diabetes, obesity, and more run rampant. Yes, I’m political about food.
But this is not a post about politics. This is a post about food. Empowerment through food.
Grow a vegetable. Seeds are cheap, and so is soil. If space is scarce, and mine has been in the past, grow something in a pot. Use a balcony. Try guerrilla gardening and commandeer a patch of land you walk past every day. If you’re blessed with a back yard–and yes, a back yard is a blessing–grow something in it besides weeds or some flaccid lawn you’re just going to have to cut anyway.
If you have to go out and cut something in your yard, let it be spinach. Or beet tops. Or kale. Or arugula. Or put in potatoes and carrots you can pull. Try growing a grain. Tomatoes. Strawberries. Something you buy from the store, maybe even something that usually travels across waters or huge chunks of land, to reach you. Plant it. Water it. Watch it grow. Eat it. And live.