Tag Archive | environment

The Running of the Sap

‘Tis the season to tap maple trees and invite them to share some of their delicious bounty.

Unusual winter weather does not seem to have affected the harvest; I taste-tested some of this year’s “crop” this morning at the Maple Festival at Touch of Nature (on Little Grassy Lake, south of Carbondale) and it was more than satisfactory.

To be honest, I almost didn’t go to the festival. Ash Wednesday, my first full week in a new church community, a lot of planning for Lent, a broken clothes dryer, and dogs with upset stomachs … it has been a very long week.

But at 7:45 this morning, I got the text from wonderful friends with whom I was anxious to spend time … so despite the urge to take a cup of tea and my journal and curl up somewhere quiet, I loaded up the dogs and headed for the woods.

The dogs burned some energy at Giant City State Park prior to our visit to the festival, and their mania at the sun and the smells and the water and the woods made me laugh. After they had worn themselves down, I let them nap in a warm and sunny car while I ate pancakes and sausage with local maple syrup and then learned the ins and outs of tapping trees.

I was sure that my greatest need today was to putter gently around my house, rather than spend one more day this week driving around Southern Illinois. But  it turns out that I was wrong.

Laughing with friends, learning something new, and bringing pleasure to the critters whose care is entrusted to me was what my spirit needed most. As it happens, I only discovered that truth in the doing of those things.

In honor of the season, here are a couple of photos:

Why Food Ethics?

Tonight was the second week of our series on food ethics at FPC. Those who were gathered made up quite a good group: large enough to spark some interesting conversation and plenty of diverse opinions.

At some point, a lightbulb went on over my head and I thought: this topic is a landmine. It’s not the kind of issue that is so controversial that it comes with it’s own red warning light that flashes “DANGER” to pastors who would approach. But it is still very much an issue that can stir up controversy; it just does it subtly.

So, why bother with it? Why have the difficult conversation about food ethics? And what would I say to those in any congregation, anywhere in the country that might prefer NOT to be more aware of how their food choices affect people and animals and ecosystems and economies around the world?

As you might imagine, I’ve given this issue a fair bit of thought. For me, it comes down to one answer: because we are the people of God.

The God we serve has commanded his people throughout every age to tend to those in need: the widow, the orphan, the least of these. As the people of God, we do not have the option of ignoring the consequences of our actions, even actions that would be easy to take for granted (like our food choices).

When it comes to eating ethically, there is no easy answer.

No one way of eating (organic, vegetarian, etc.) will eliminate every ethical dilemma.(For more on this topic, watch to Michael Pollan’s brilliant lecture at Princeton University’s conference on Food, Ethics and the Environment available on iTunes.)

But because we are given the responsibility of stewardship of creation  – and of care for one another – we are commanded to take our choices seriously: to eat with our eyes open and to be willing to bear the weight of the consequences of our actions.

An Ethic of Food

Michael Pollan writes that the name for his book – The Omnivore’s Dilemma – comes from the difficult choices an organism faces when it can eat anything.

As Pollan explains:

Omnivores (like human beings … or rats or cockroaches) can nourish themselves with a variety of things. Unlike a cow, which is biologically programmed to eat grass, or a koala bear, which only eats eucalyptus leaves, we have options.

However, when you can eat almost anything … the choice of what to eat becomes more difficult.

For the other omnivores (the rats and cockroaches), the menu choices focus on finding food that provides sustenance, but that also isn’t harmful to them.

Human beings have to go one step further. We not only have to choose things that will nourish us rather than sicken us … we also have to choose food that will allow us to live inside the moral framework that we’ve chosen.

Moral framework? Perhaps you’re thinking that you don’t make your food choices based on any sort of moral framework. Well, let me take this opportunity to point out that you (more than likely) do not eat other humans. Why? Probably because something inside you tells you its just wrong.

That, my friend, is just the most obvious way that your moral framework affects your food choices. There are others.

Wednesday night (March 16 at 5:30pm) is the first night of the Food Ethics study at the congregation I serve. (Meal provided: come and join us!) We’ll begin this 6-week study by talking about what ethics means … and how it affects our food choices. We’ll even watch an excellent lecture given by Michael Pollan to some college students at an ethics conference at Princeton University.

It’s shaping up to be a great evening and I’m really looking forward to it.

Grocery Store Wars

Normally, you’d be getting a “Weekly Wrap-Up” post today … but the ankle is killing me and I really just want to take a pain pill and rest. So, I’m taking the easy way out (again! eek!) and giving you a little video treasure.

As you know, I’m working on a food ethics study for Lent for those lovely Pope County Presbyterians (and anyone else who’s interested!) As part of the research, I ran across this video. Enjoy!


Mairzy Doats

I woke this morning to the ringing sound of (another) winter storm warning notification on my smartphone. It seems odd that in the midst of snowstorm after snowstorm across the country, we should quietly enter into February with its ancient promises of Spring.

The month of February was named for the Roman Februa festival, which was a time of ritual purification: a time of cleansing after a long and difficult winter.

The ancient Celts lit great bonfires for the festival of Imbolc (on or about February 2) which honored Brigid (something of a Mother Earth figure) and celebrated the lambing and lactation of the ewes.

Imbolc marked that the worst of the threat of winter had passed. Even though it was still too early for produce, the ancients no longer had to rely entirely on what was stored in the larder, as milk and eggs and butter began to return to the land (and their diets).

Many of these ancient celebrations of the seasons and of creation’s bounty have been incorporated into our “modern” religious understandings and practices.


the Candlemas celebration on February 2, when lighted candles replace the ancient bonfires;

the celebration of Groundhog day, which looks to the wisdom of the animals to announce the coming of Spring;

the Christian celebration of the presentation of Jesus in the temple (after the time of purification of Mary after childbirth), which is celebrated on February 2.

Though our supermarkets defy the seasonal logic of food and we perhaps think we no longer need the wisdom of the created world to help us navigate the seasons, still the promise of new life continues its long, slow work of gestation.

Though much of the country is still blanketed with winter weather (with still more to come) and though we may question that Spring is closer today than yesterday … still the days continue to lengthen.

Though the continued brutality of the cold may seem to suck our stamina, still the life-force of all creation continues to rise, unseen, like sap in the trees.

It is a good time to curl up and dream of the new life that will come. February, which among the priests of the ancient Celts was called the Poet’s Moon, is a time for inspiration: when the sacred fire of the Spirit is kindled within us.

I invite you to honor and celebrate these fleeting days in some way that feels natural and pleasurable to you.

Perhaps you could have your own celebration of milk and eggs by baking aChocolate Butter Cake.

Or perhaps you’re more comfortable as the activist than the cook. You might want to celebrate this season by working to protect our milk supply.

If you’re a poet at heart, then perhaps the best way to honor the Poet’s Moon is to write your own.

Personally, I’ve been thinking of the lambs and the ewes by singing that old childhood song about the Mairzy Doats. If you know it, feel free to sing along.


Milk and Alfalfa

During the season of Lent, the congregation I serve will be meeting on Wednesday nights and doing a 6-week study on the topic of food ethics. We’re calling the study Food Matters and we’re going to be wrestling with the following question: How do we practice our faith at the table?

For much of the last 8 weeks, I’ve been doing research:  reading books and articles, as well as watching documentaries and video-recorded lectures posted on the internet about anything related to the global food system. I’m not yet as well-informed as Michael Pollan, but I feel like I surely must be close.

I’m so saturated, in fact, that I am having a hard time engaging in conversations about anything else. I’m not sure if it is my preoccupation or the curiosity of the other person, but somehow the conversation always veers onto the topic of food. I stayed with friends in Memphis – we talked about food ethics. They invited 10 people to dinner – we talked about food ethics. I went to the Ministerial Alliance breakfast gathering – we talked about food ethics.

I’m afraid I may be starting to repeat myself. But, here I go again …

The big news in the last few weeks to those who care deeply about the condition of our food supply is the USDA’s approval without restriction on the sale and planting of genetically modified alfalfa.

Alfalfa is the primary food for dairy cows. Organic alfalfa is the primary food for dairy cows producing organic milk. If genetically modified alfalfa cross-pollinates with organic alfalfa, then the formerly-organic alfalfa can no longer be certified as organic … and neither can any milk that comes from any cow who eats it.

The unrestricted planting of genetically modified alfalfa threatens the future of organic milk producers, not to mention the future of milk.

I don’t intend to get on my soapbox about this issue in this posting, especially not at this time of night. But I’m noticing that I’m buying milk and drinking milk more often in these last few weeks. It’s as though my body is manifesting my concern about the future of milk by trying to hoard it in preparation for whatever may come.

It saddens me to think that we have to be so concerned about the safety of our food.

For more information, read Marion Nestle on the threat of genetically modified crops, Robyn O’Brien on how the increase in food allergies is related to genetic engineering of food items, or read the letter in opposition signed by 25 Big Names in Organic and food safety.


1 Thing You Probably Didn’t Know

One of the best things you can do for the environment this gift-giving season is to give gifts that don’t require batteries. Admittedly, this is usually easier if your list has a bunch of adults on it, rather than a list full of children. And, of course, it’s practically impossible to give batteries up entirely. (We still need our smoke alarms, after all!)

However, it’s worth the extra time and effort to find those battery-free gifts. All those batteries (and there are loads of them) end up in a landfill eventually. Even the rechargable ones don’t last forever. And all those discarded batteries are quite the environmental hazzard.

Nearly half of all battery sales occur during this time of year … so let’s see if we can’t trim the number of batteries that wind up in landfills this year.


And thus ends our 12 Days of Christmas. Geez! Now I’m not sure what to do next. Hmm. Maybe I’ll take a day off!

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See you then.


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