The Hands That Feed Us

My small scale efforts of container planting and tending a small plot in a community garden make me even more grateful for the more productive labours of others. My horticultural failures are frequent but also fairly inconsequential in the long-run. One of the great fortunes of living in this region is our proximity to those who are growing food for a living (especially in the summer months). We drive by their roadside stands, support them at farmers markets and most of us personally know farmers or food-providers through one connection or another. It feels easy to connect the dots and appreciate their effort.


Growing the circle of gratitude beyond the local farmers feels a bit trickier… how to start when the origin of the food can feel mysterious, layered, even dubious?

As an experiment: I tried for a season to pause before meals and acknowledge the chain of events, sometimes even the ongoing industrial churnings which worked together to bring me to that particular meal. I’d extend a quick, internal thank you to everyone, thing and place involved (well… the ones I could easily come up with that is). And within moments the world had shrunk down to fit the size of my bowl & cup.


An ‘easy’ meal of morning oatmeal and turmeric milk had me visualizing oat-farmers, threshers, packers and transport-truck drivers. People building the machines that made the farming possible. Cinnamon grown in tropical heat and harvested by who-knows-who. Sunflower seeds and hemp hearts sprinkled on top brought to me by the Local Goods Company based out of Squamish. I visualized the sunflowers that grew those seeds planted by the farmers who chose to pursue organic certification, grow the flowers and then find a market for those particular seeds. I pour blueberries from Pemberton on top, grown by an ex pro-skier and the best I’ve tasted in years. Mix in the turmeric grown in India and sold in Nesters. Many hands along the way to bring it to my table. Someone picking the medjool dates that I add to the blender, someone else cleaning them, another person packing them, another loading them into boxes, another onto barges, another onto shelves.


One million thanks required. Photo by Asta Kovanen

One meal and my mind is slightly melting. I’m both hungry and amazed.

Having worked at one point picking and packing apples, pears and cherries for export to Japan, I have seen the many labourers required at each step. And having been one, I know that the pay isn’t always the best. The chance to eat locally grown food is a privilege in this region and when possible I am happy to spend my money supporting the people doing the hard work to cultivate brussel sprouts and melons right here in Canada.


However, all the other groceries (noodles, rice, spices, crackers) become more meaningful to me when I pause and consider how it made it to my cupboard. Some I won’t buy due to food justice or environmental concerns (palm oil or suspect meat) but even my vices like dark chocolate and ice-cream have lessons for me, some tasty, some not once you start digging through the chain of events.


And sometimes that minute of foody reflection will simply bring me awareness and other times, it has helped guide me towards a different, more local, more compassionate choice.


“Innumerable beings brought us this food. We should know how it comes to us.” Buddhist grace, as recalled by Benedictine monk David Steindl-Rast