A Famished Spirit

The world looks different to me this morning. Under the clearest July-blue sky, the trees screamingly green, the garden filled with blossoms and ripening fruit, birds perching and preening in the homemade bath outside the big window…I see beauty and promise and wonder, all of it brighter, somehow, than it appeared just two days ago.

But I also see fragility and interconnectedness more clearly than I did two days ago.

Two days ago, we watched Food, Inc., the 2008 documentary about factory farming that most good foodies have seen by now. I am late to the party for a reason, albeit a selfish one: I have always known that seeing it would affect me in irreversible ways, and I haven’t been ready to face that.  I haven’t had the courage to stand back and really look at the choices I make as a food consumer, to question those choices and make the changes I’ve always known in my gut I would need to make. It’s the same reason I haven’t read Fast Food Nation–I used to joke that I knew if I read it, I’d be a vegetarian on the other side–or finished reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma.

If you haven’t seen the movie, you should. Everyone should. I’m glad I did, though I sobbed through it and for hours after. The images of factory farms–the darkened, over-packed chicken houses, the “kill floor,” of the hog farm, the conveyor belts, the forklift slamming into the lame cow–beyond horrifying. I am already hugely susceptible to visual imagery anyway, and now that these pictures are linked to something I care so very much about, I will never be rid of them. Which is as it should be.

The human story of the film was equally devastating. Look, I can’t begin to recount it here and it wouldn’t have the same effect even if I could. I had heard these stories for years, too, and still I willingly looked the other way.

In the hours that followed the film, I admit I fell into despair. I’m not opposed to eating meat, but I do care very much about the humane treatment of ALL life. I am not opposed to technology or industrial advancements per se, but I have always espoused the belief that our care for people and relationships should be the engine behind the engine, so to speak. I am not an environmental activist, but I do believe the earth is a living thing and that it is under our stewardship that it will survive or perish. These are the things I try to teach my kids. Insofar as I’ve taught them anything about the divine, I’ve taught them about Mother Nature or Mother Earth. And if I’ve personally found God at all, it has been in relationships and in the rituals around food. 

This is me, right? The woman who cooks to connect and remember. To celebrate beauty and dwell in sensuality. Waver of the “Slow Food,” and “locavore” flags. Paul (who was similarly affected by the film) reminds me that regret is not a very productive place in which to dwell. He is far better than I am at saying, “Okay, this is where we are now. Where do we go next?” whereas I am more likely to bemoan and lament and wonder, as I did all that evening and the next day, “Where did I put my principles? What the hell happened to my ideals?”

I am also more prone to becoming overwhelmed by too many choices and just shutting down in the face of it. I felt this way in grad school when confronted with all the many, many poets and volumes of poetry I had not read (but felt I *should* have read–I am far too susceptible to “shoulds” in general). Beginning with energy and conviction: Where do I start? How can I enter? and fizzling quickly to an exhausted It’s too much and What does it matter? 

It matters, dammit. Of that I’m absolutely sure. I just have to figure out now how to start and how, when faced with the higher cost of ethically- produced foods, the extra energy it takes to find them, the pervasive attitude of American entitlement and apathy in which I am fully immersed and with which I am fully complicit, to keep trying.

And to not stop.

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