You’re going to think I am pulling your leg, but I am telling you very seriously: you and I can turn aside this destructive consume, commoditize everything mindset that is destroying our Earth and corrupting the very meaning of human civilization, by vociferously choosing the quality of jam we spread on our toast! Go ahead laugh—laughter is good for mind, body and soul AND give me just a minute of your time to make a point that maybe you haven’t thought of.
Before you contemptuously click over to more serious news/commentary about climate change and oceanic cesspools of plastic and agriculture that poisons farm hands, our food and our water, let me tell you a story about a dining experience that has shifted my own thinking about the kind of world we can create by making small, immensely significant, different choices about things as seemingly insignificant as different food choices.
One sunny morning last week a friend asked me to join her for breakfast at Mars on Main in Cumberland. I am always delighted to find another excuse to visit the small town/village of Cumberland with its pervading/infectious “we’re just people”– “Everybody knows your name” environment so I readily accepted. A chance to renew a connection that I sometimes—most regrettably—allow to grow rusty while attending to a lot of ”things” that aren’t nearly as important as a warm-hearted friendship was yet another incentive for jumping on the bike and pedalling up the hill.
Though it is nearly centred in “downtown” Cumberland, except for its on the street seating, Mars on Main is actually rather difficult to pick out. The interior ambiance is warm but definitely not exceptional. The greeting at the door is definitely well into the warm range. But what is utterly EXCEPTIONAL is the quality of the food; the farm fresh eggs, the- that morning fresh- bread from across the street, the obvious attention and care that goes into every deliciously prepared item on the menu. AND—here is what I started out to share with you—THE JAM! Oh, my gosh, real jam; not that stuff –that softened plastic like, fruit free, industrialized coagulated sugar water contaminated with artificial colour and no flavour packaged in a factory printed, throw away plastic tiny container– they call jam that you get in almost all restaurants these days. At Mars on Main they bring out real jam, the kind my mother used to make in her kitchen with fresh, unpoisoned raspberries she sent me out to pick that day and she conjured over her stove into to this, lovingly prepared with pectin and sugar, sealed into glass jars she reused for a lifetime with re-melted paraffin and stored a home—not transported anywhere other than to our table– succulence of real fruit jam. Did I mention that the almost as good as my mother’s jam they serve at Mars on Main is presented in a lovely pottery dish cast by a local potter?
Once over revelling in the utter joy of encountering real jam—the jam that so enchanted my childhood—I had to say something. I called the waitress over and explained how delighted I was to be served real jam in a pottery bowl that wouldn’t degrade to yet another swirling cesspool in our oceans. “Well” she said—not nearly as impressed with my compliment as I expected. “Do you know,” she warmly and matter-of-factly explained, “that everything we serve here is the real thing? We buy local eggs from farmers we know, the bread…” Wow! What a delightful breakfast. What a delightful way to start the day—on the sunny side of the street. I turned to my friend and picked a conversation about us, about our families, about growing old, about the election that we didn’t know would have such a delightful conclusion. I forgot the delicious food and coffee and immersed myself in being present to reinvigorate the connections of an old friendship.
But even as I conversed, there was a realm of thought inside my head that wasn’t done with the jam. Why don’t all restaurants serve such good, genuine food? Sure it costs more to serve the real thing instead of the plastic imitation—but how much more. Surely jam—even of the highest quality—is a small cost compared to the whole meal. And what about the customers that come back again to get real food? And what does it mean to staff to be serving the best and to be thanked the way I was so profusely thanking/tipping my waitress?
But on another level of thought, I was thinking way beyond the morning’s delightful experience in Cumberland. I was thinking about the implications of our food choices on the whole world and about the film I had just seen “This Changes Everything”. The film was more about how the issue of climate change is so big and pervasive that it—indeed—changes everything. We can’t make; we can’t have a healthy world as long as we continue to believe that we have no responsibility for the well being of our human family, that we have no reason to be here on Earth other than to consume it. Small fixes will never mount a successful challenge to the damage we are doing to ourselves and our Earth. Climate change means we have to do everything differently—starting, most importantly, with our understanding of what it means to be human and to what end we organize into societies and countries and economies. And to the kind of food we choose to eat.
Then I remembered a book written by Bill McKibben that I read a long, long time ago called “The Age of Missing Information.” Bill McKibben is, today, likely the foremost advocate for turning back from the disastrous path we are on to cooking our atmosphere, but in the 1990’s he authored an insightful book titled “The Age of Missing Information” in which he argued that “TV, and the culture it anchors, masks and drowns out the subtle and vital information contact with the real world once provided. There are lessons, enormous lessons, lessons that may be crucial to the planet’s persistence as a green and diverse place and also to the happiness of its inhabitants-that nature teaches and TV can’t.” McKibben was contrasting the information one learns from a day’s hike up the mountain to the kind of information one gets from spending a day in front of the television. But today I see a whole other dimension, likely unintended, to McKibben’s thoughts. What if we were to mindfully contrast things like plastic bound, synthetically textured, tasteless, industrial, made in China, flown across the world, trucked to some corporate outlet jam with the real thing—the sensuously alive, made and enjoyed at home, real fruit jam sealed in reused for a lifetime jars? Would we really choose the synthetic imitation to the real thing?
And what if we liked the real thing so much we started to ask for it—demand it? What if we liked the real thing so much we started to look for the real thing in durable, reusable containers? What if, as McKibben suggests, we learned to like feeling invigorated by a walk in the fresh air instead of slouching in front of a television whose reason to be is to sell you things—mostly plastic—that you wouldn’t want except they trick you into turning off your body and mind by playing idiotic/mind and body numbing advertisements brainwashingly over and over. What if a little dirt on the carrots we buy at the local farmer’s market reminds us that all we have comes from the Earth? What if a blemish on the apple from the farmer’s market reminds us that the apple we eat isn’t poisoning us? What if the wind against our face as we cycle off to visit a friend reminds us that we are, like the Earth that supports us, alive and both in need of and invigorated by fresh , clean air?
Historian of science, Morris Berman suggests that even a slight shift in the permitted foundations of our knowing may produce profound changes in the way we live our lives. With all the factual confidence nuclear physicists place in the revelations flowing from the collisions of high energy particles, Berman asserts: “What do I know in my heart, then? I know that in some relational sense, everything is alive; that non-cognitive knowing, is indeed knowing; that societies, like human beings, are organic, and the attempt to engineer either is destructive; and finally, that we are living on a dying planet, and that without some radical shift in our politics and consciousness, our children’s generation is probably going to witness the planet’s last days.”
What if we just learn to appreciate real raspberry jam so much, we ask for it everywhere we go? What if we learn to like good, fresh, non poisonous food so much that we won’t have anything less? What if we learn to enjoy our neighbours so much we spend more time visiting over the back yard fence than sitting in front of the television? What if we turn off the television and for an evening allow ourselves to become absorbed by the vast encompassing enormity of the universe? What if we for a moment we turn off the whole idea that what we want is for sale at a big box store instead of in the joy we feel in seeing the returning salmon running up the Puntledge River while walking along the river side trail? What if we learn to love where we are so much that it becomes unthinkable to spew Earth cooking jet exhaust into the atmosphere in order to get away from our homes? What if they give yet another war and no one comes because we don’t need someone else’s land and resources? What if we learn to love and respect our planet rather than pillaging it? What if we start with savouring real raspberry jam and end up saving ourselves and our planet?