Thank you for joining the Partners in Health and Wholeness Book Club. You can officially sign-up here. Through it, we hope to engage people of faith in discussions over why our health matters. Our current choice of reading is “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life” by Barbara Kingsolver. We are posting updates through the PHW Facebook page, but our PHW blog page has the discussion posts in full with responses from staff. Just look for the apple on top of the book picture among the blog post pictures and you will find past Book Club entries.
This is a very rich chapter, with beautiful scenes from an organic farm run by an Amish couple. They reflect on the size of their farm, and their communion with the fields, which Kingsolver describes as “part meditation and part biology.” The parts of this chapter that struck me most were this family’s powerful knowledge of and commitment to the land, and this line: “We seem to be built with a faulty gauge for moderation.”
Before the visit to the organic farm, the Kingsolver family is visiting friends in Montreal, where they go to a farmers market. They take in the local fare of Quebec, including, most notably, an array of maple products. While the maple products are no surprise, her family is impressed by what these farmers have been able to produce from this land that was so recently frozen (their visit is in June). Kingsolver sees a head of broccoli that looks “too good to be true.” She is confused when the vendor says it came from South America. When she asks what country in South America he replies, “La Californie, madame.” She laughs, but then reflects that when it comes to produce, California might as well be its own country. She says, “I’d buy it if I lived here, and fly the flag of La Californie in my kitchen.”
Then she begins to wonder — when their year of committed local buying is over, would she be able to indulge in treats in moderation? Enjoy such delights responsibly, without falling into dependency? And here is the sticking point: “California vegetables are not the serpent, it’s all of us who open our veins to the flow of gas-fueled foods, becoming yawning addicts, while our neighborhood farms dry up and blow away. We seem to be built with a faulty gauge for moderation.” What difference could it make if we all enjoyed imported produce, albeit in moderation?
I could not agree more with the faulty gauge analogy — I find that it is much easier to give something up entirely than to learn to enjoy in moderation. I would love to learn to enjoy Ben and Jerry’s a few bites at a time, but more often than not a whole pint disappears before I know it. Once we taste something good, we want more. However, I know from experience that after doing without a certain food — cheese, sugar, meat, refined grains — we don’t miss them as much. We begin to forget the taste. Unfortunately, when we become dependent on produce shipped from all over the world, we begin to forget what fresh, in-season produce actually tastes like. We trade superior taste, nutrition, and care for creation for convenience.
Kingsolver’s reflection on the struggle for moderation is at the heart of what it is to be human. I struggle with this dilemma of moderation versus total abstinence. Take sugar — there is a part of me that knows that sugar is very harmful to our bodies, and I know I need to care for this body as a way of living into God’s call to a full and abundant life. There is another part of me that just as strongly and unabashedly believes that enjoying Ben and Jerry’s ice cream or a piece of chocolate cake — in moderation — is also a part of living a full and abundant life. We are made to delight just as much as we are made to steward. In this season of indulgence, where we are frequently surrounded by an overabundance of sugary treats (and probably out-of-season produce), let us reflect on our own gauges for moderation, and remember that when it comes to produce, sometimes waiting for the proper season is the true key to delight.
- During this season of Advent, we practice (or at least reflect on) the difficult and uncommon art of waiting. How might this season of waiting challenge us to learn to wait when it comes to the food we eat?
- Can we find balance in realizing we can also delight in the love of friends, family, and God and not rely on food to fulfill us?
- Are you more successful than I often am with enjoying treats in moderation? What helps you do this?
- Do you have dietary restrictions or rules that you follow to maintain a healthy lifestyle?
–Shannon Axtell Martin, PHW Regional Consultant
Partners in Health and Wholeness is an initiative of the North Carolina Council of Churches. PHW aims to connect health as a faith issue. Please visit our website to sign your personal pledge to be healthier, and to find out about grant opportunities for places of worship in NC.