When I was 20 my grandmother became very ill. With family far away, my father hired in-home caregivers for my grandparents, both over 80. Anne provided wonderful care, often staying well beyond her official (paid) hours and truly caring for them in the way a family member would.
I was scheduled to visit to care for my grandparents and help my grandmother recover. As it happened, I arrived shortly after she went into coma and she died later that night.
In the midst of deep sadness and grief, great beauty emerged.
As my grandfather and I grieved, Anne stood by in solid support for a girl who lost her grandmother and a man who lost his true love. In the following moments and days I glimpsed what true community means and the striking myth of independence.
My grandparents’ neighbors quickly flooded the home with homemade food—meals, jams, breads, deserts; they took turns staying with my grandfather, who was also in ill health and appreciated the familiarity of loved ones; they picked up family and friends from the airport; they brought over pictures and stories. They were community embodied and exemplified.
A few days into the parade of neighbors and friends, Anne gifted me with a small Chinese wooden carving of 9 men sitting under a tree. The story attached to it was one of community interdependence—the men represented different roles; each had a specific job yet each needed the 8 others to survive.
I am reminded of this sculpture and the community around my grandparents as I reflect on the illusion of ’independence.’
In America, the celebration of independence is about political independence from England, independence from the Divine Right of Kings. But culturally and socially, our notions of independence have become perverted as individuals increasingly revel in not needing to rely on others; we celebrate a false self-sufficiency. There is no such thing as that kind of independence. Rather we live in a beautiful, intricate and wholeheartedly valuable web of community interdependence.
As human beings we all want connection. We need other humans. We want to be accepted, appreciated and loved. We thrive within community, and yet, in our culture, many actively seek a false independence resulting in isolation and loneliness. Adherence to the idea that anyone can be socially and culturally independent leads to abdication of responsibility.
It is only when we see ourselves as part of the community—whether local or global—that we can fill our role within it.
The Great Connector
One of the important ways we make social and cultural connections is via food. Throughout history, food has always been more than nourishment for our bodies. Food unites us, giving us connection through sharing a meal, coming together for harvest, or preserving and preparing food together. Food is central to our sense of community and our sense of cultural belonging. It helps us access a deeper connection, adding immeasurable value to our lives, offering grounding and a naturally rooted exchange of value.
Food is access to personal empowerment and, ultimately, to peace.
In a normal culture, no one would think twice about growing, eating and sharing their own food with their family and community. They would simply do it. And yet here we are in the 21st century, so conditioned to readily accessible food, that we have become dissociated from the actual process–and the empowerment–of producing our own food. We have become dissociated from the empowerment of adding value to our communities through food.
When we see government regulators controlling what farmers can grow, eat and distribute, it doesn’t really impact us as an immediate, personal loss of the most basic freedom: the freedom to access the foods of our choice from the producers of choice and come together in community.
We see our society as having “advanced” from one that depended on many small farms, to one that industrialized its farms for the purpose of maximizing production and profit (for some; unfortunately, usually not the farmers). This industrialization, as well as the outsourcing of food production, has allowed Americans a great amount of leisure that would otherwise be spent securing calories.
The paradox of convenient food is that is seems to give us more independence to live our lives as we want—traveling, working, playing, drinking. Whatever we want to do, we do not need to concern ourselves with being on the farm, tending animals 365 days a year, monitoring the weather, weeding, repairing equipment, and harvesting since much of that labor and expertise is assigned to just a few people.
But in reality, “convenient food” increases our interdependence while simultaneously putting an invisibility cloak on those members of the community we are most reliant on: farmers. The outsourcing of food production is the cornerstone of community interdependence.
Independence is an illusion, carefully crafted by industries that hold no responsibility for your health, the health of farmers, the health of the environment or the health of the soil—the very foundation of life.
These industries want to keep the producers and processors of our food anonymous so that we will never know them as people, never see them, thank them or embrace them for the value they add to our lives. These corporations have gone to great lengths to keep themselves distant, all in the interest of focusing on one thing: financial profit.
The only way we can nurture each other while feeding ourselves is to welcome the responsibility and the empowerment that comes with knowing and appreciating our food sources. Responsible food sourcing comes with embracing the challenges of ’inconvenience’ and understanding that that is where the real rewards and value of community and interdependence lie.
Food production is a seemingly insignificant symbol of interdependence. It is something so basic it is often overlooked. But think for a moment where your last meal came from.
- Where was it produced?
- Who was the farmer who tended the fields?
- Where was it processed?
- Who transported it to where you are?
- Who is responsible for making sure it is safe for you?
- Whom do you trust to inform you about what is healthy and what is not?
- How does this information come to you and whom do you trust to provide accurate information?
When you know that, you will have food each day, that is community interdependence NOT independence. When you have some idea of where, when, how and by whom that food was produced or processed, you begin to have true community.
It is time that we reject the idea of independence and fully, wholeheartedly, without reservation, embrace the idea of community interdependence.
It is time that, as people, we endorse and cherish a system that will lead to healing and restoring what is damaged and destroyed in our soils, our environment, our health, our lives and our communities.
Is it time that, as dependent members of community, we reach out, each giving what we can to those who produce our food, restore our soils, and give life to us while giving it back to the earth.
This “independence day,” please celebrate a farmer, connect through food, learn about and love the soil that gives us all life! Celebrate the interdependence that connects us all! It is your power, your voice and your choice that can shape a brighter future.
Wherever you are in your personal journey toward clean living and local food, thank you for joining me in mine. I look forward to sharing it with you.