This world is on fire

Trying to celebrate the harvest season when the world is on fire

Does your family say grace before a meal?

Growing up, I was always embarrassed by saying grace. It was such a corny tell -- an indication of a certain familial dorkiness -- that we had to follow this lame rule. 

We only ever did so on Christmas or Easter, and always the Catholic grace, mumbled incoherently into nearly one word. Blessusolordandthesethygiftswhichweareabouttoreceivefromthybountythroughchristourlordamen. 

My husband Bryan grew up saying grace before every dinner, every day. If we’re with his mom now, he’ll say it. A less religion-specific grace, he would lead his family saying a prayer before eating dinner, every night: We’re thankful for being alive and having this meal. We’re fortunate to have food on our plates. We’re happy to be together and may this indicate love, health, and happiness, for us and those less fortunate.  

Saying grace never meant anything to me. It was a dissociated, mindless verbal vomit with not a ton of resonance or meaning. A 30-second stopgap to shoveling food into my mouth. 

I increasingly question my aversion to this. Gratitude for food is a more precious concept to me now. This aversion, more than anything else, is a corny tell on myself - of how privileged and unaware of the access I had to abundance really was. 

Gratitude comes from scarcity. Gratitude comes from an experience of suffering or a brush of bad fortune. Being those less fortunate. 

I’m less and less interested in food as a performative Instagram thing, and more into food as a source of simple nutrition. Not that pleasure isn’t nice to have; I still love a fabulous pasta or a luscious cake, but just not that often. I don’t want to waste the ingredients to make brownies 3 times before posting a recipe online. The days of Instagram-stunt food, chefs as auteurs, and the bacchanalian profligacy of years past are increasingly distasteful and irrelevant. 

It’s also the end of summer and turning towards fall. In astrology, the summertime, Leo season, is when celebrity and performance is at its peak. Virgo season is when the days get shorter, the season ends, and we start to prepare for the fall & winter. A turn towards a season of conservation. Preparing, saving. 

This September has felt like one thing after the last. Smoke and fires engulfing the West Coast, bringing a far-too-quick look at the realities of climate change. I feel that we must start preparing for a dramatically different future.

Today’s new moon in Virgo -- an end of the sun-season new moon, as it’s nearly the fall equinox -- has me thinking about ritual and harvest. Virgo is stereotyped often as the anal-retentive, detail-oriented prick. But Virgo is also associated with the harvest, grain, and food preservation. Virgo’s symbolism includes wheat, barley, grain silos, and food storage. 

Virgo is all about service -- think of acts of service as a love language. It’s also about clarity and honesty. In The Cut, Claire Comstock Gay writes

At its core, Virgo is about seeing the world sharply and clearly, without making excuses or ignoring painful or inconvenient facts. It’s about an unwillingness to be appeased by hollow words, or bought off with half measures, or lied to. Sometimes, from the outside, this can look like a frustrating fixation on ultimately inconsequential details, but it can be brave and grand, too. 

To be grateful for what’s on our plate- especially those of us who aren’t experiencing economic hardship right now - we need to be honest about the realities we’re in collectively. We need to get real about the scarcity our foodways are experiencing, the existential threat we really are facing. We need to notice the details and the work being put into keeping up our foodways and harvest, and honestly, the current charade of abundance. 

I think about the excruciating labor that goes into putting food on a plate and the human cost of labor in the foodways system. The people risking COVID and smoky air to pick vegetables or work in a meat processing facility. Having to choose a paycheck over their lungs. 

I think about the environmental cost of the food we eat and the choices we could be making. 

As the fires choke up the West Coast - the cornucopia of California being seriously endangered by fires - I’m reminded that food security isn’t a given, and habitats are being scorched that may never recover

A 2017 study found that future warming and unmitigated ozone pollution in the US could cause a decline of 13% in wheat crops, 28% in soybean yield, and 43% in corn & maize by 2050, as compared to 2000.

The harvest season -- the one we’re in right now -- is in danger. This can’t go on. 

If we treasure our food systems, if we treasure the labor going into getting food onto our tables, we’ll work to solve this collective climate crisis. We must. We must pressure our elected officials. We must push for enterprise-level environmental change just as much as we make individual sacrifices in our everyday lives, holding the companies doing the most damage accountable for their actions. 

The ritual I’m also going to start now, to honor and cherish the harvest this year, this Virgo new moon, as well as the fragile foodways we’re still able to take advantage of, is to reinstate a sort of grace before meals. To say a sort of private intention before eating a meal that acknowledges the precarity of the circumstance we’re in, and that this gratitude comes from an awareness of how thin the ice we’re all on really is. To bless the hands that got the food - the vegetables and fruit and rice and occasional servings of meat - all the way to my kitchen. This ritual, this grace, can be one step in our collective fight for our climate and earth, and can be brave and grand too.