Friday, February 24, 2012
Thursday, February 23, 2012
Lenten Food for Thought
What's wrong with eating french fries - Ash Wednesday, 2012
At our annual Shrove Tuesday pancake supper, a group of middle-aged adults started talking about favorite junk food from our childhood. On the top of the list for a number of folks were Krispy Kreme donuts. As I drove home, trying to focus on my Ash Wednesday sermon, I had junk food on the brain, and my ruminations turned to McDonald’s french fries. By the time I got to my house, I literally had a craving for those perfectly constructed, remarkably uniform, four-inch-long strips of Idaho russet potatoes soaked in sugar, corn syrup, and hot water; fried in oil; drenched in salt; and served in a little paper bag or box. And then I remembered my Lenten commitment of mindful eating.
But I couldn’t get those French fries out of my mind. I could have gone out and feasted on McDonald’s french fries. After all, it was still Fat Tuesday. But instead, I sat down with Food and Faith, one of the books I intended to read to inspire my mindful eating discipline. The book fell open to an essay by John Ryan and Alan Durning about the journey of a box of McDonald’s French fries that began on a one-half square foot of sandy soil in the upper Snake River valley of Idaho.[i]
I learned that during its 150-day growing period, my potato was watered repeatedly with a total of seven and one-half gallons of water from the Snake River. My potato was treated with a variety of fertilizers and pesticides to make it look so uniform and perfect. Much of the fertilizer’s nitrogen leached into the groundwater, making it unfit for even fertilization, and some of it washed into the streams that feed the Snake River.
Once my potato had grown to maturity, it was harvested by diesel-powered farm machinery and trucked to a nearby processing plant. Half of my potato’s weight (mostly water from the Snake River) was eliminated in the processing. The processing itself created an additional two-thirds of a gallon of waste water that included 1/3 gram of nitrogen, and was then sprayed on a field outside the plant and sank underground.
After my potato was processed into those uniform four-inch-long strips, it was frozen with hydro fluorocarbon coolants and electricity generated by a dam on the Snake River. It then was shipped, along with lots of other bags of frozen four-inch-long strips of potatoes, in a refrigerated 18-wheeler to my McDonald’s – one of 33,000 worldwide.
By the time I finished reading the essay, I should have lost my taste for a bag of those golden brown French fries, but I didn’t. However, I decided to begin my Lenten practice of mindful eating a day early.
In the traditional gospel reading from Matthew 6 appointed for Ash Wednesday Jesus, reminds us of three essential principles of Christian mindfulness: fasting, almsgiving, and prayer. Using french fries as my metaphor, I want to explore with you what he’s talking about and how it might apply in our daily lives.
In the abstract, there is absolutely nothing wrong with eating french fries. Now, I wouldn’t go as far as Ray Kroc, one of the founders of McDonald’s who wrote in his autobiography that the french fry was “almost sacrosanct” for him. However, I might agree that "its preparation [could be] a ritual to be followed religiously.”[ii] If I grew a potato in my own organic garden, relying largely on rain water and no fertilizer; if I harvested that potato myself; if I washed it in my sink with small amount of tap water; if I sliced it into imperfect four-inch-long strips; and if I fried it in a little unsaturated oil; and if I sprinkled just a little sea salt, then my french fries wouldn’t be so bad.
Moreover, if I had grown my own potato and processed it myself into a plate of french fries, I would have been mindful of, and attentive to, the soil, the sun, the rain, my neighborhood critters, my body, and my environment. Once I got used to not coating my food with sugar and corn syrup, I’m certain it would have tasted better. And, for every calorie eaten, I might have burned up a few in the effort of tending my garden.
Knowing my gardening skills, I would have been saying a lot of prayers for my garden to grow. And if I had a decent crop, I could have shared my produce with others less fortunate.
But what if I didn’t have a garden? Well, I could have grown my potato in a community garden, or purchased it from a local farmer, a CSA or a farmer’s market. Moreover, as a discipline, for every potato eaten, I could give one or two cents to a local or global hunger program.
The point is, that in deciding not to buy my french fries in a box or bag from McDonald’s (or some other fast food restaurant), I would be making the decision to be mindful in my eating, prayerful in my choices, and attentive to the needs of the rest of the world.
As I reflect on Jesus’ advice for practicing self-denial, I have concluded that it really is about paying attention – paying attention to how we eat, how we pray, and how we share the gifts we have been given.
Lent is a time to focus on this practice of mindful living. It is a season to renew those good new intentions and begin taking steps in the right direction. In AA, they say – 90 meetings in 90 days. That’s the amount of time it takes to break an old habit and form a new one. The Lenten-Easter cycle is just that – 90 days: 40 days of Lent and 50 days of Easter. That’s 90 days to begin again and start anew. And, if one falls off the wagon, so to speak, you can start over. After all, we belong to a religion of second-chances and start-overs. It’s really a matter of intention, attention, mindfulness and practice.
As for me, I’m going to work on mindful eating as my Lenten practice and hope that it sticks. I think I’m also going to plant some potatoes this spring. I should be able to plant my crop on St. Patrick’s Day – right in the middle of Lent and harvest my potatoes after Pentecost. In the meantime, I’m going to do my best to avoid those tempting McDonald’s french fries.
What about you? What are going to take on or give up this Lent as you pay attention to practice mindful living in the name of Christ?
Wednesday, February 22, 2012
Private Lenten Practices: They Aren't All Chocolate-less Any More
In 2012 we now have a many options to choose from. In the event that you haven't yet selected a Lenten practice, here is a listing of some of the many options available to you. Enjoy (yes, that is permitted during Lent)!
1) Exploring the Psalms with Barbara Crafton would, dear Farmers, top the list. This e-course runs daily from Ash Wednesday through Easter Sunday. You can subscribe to this series right now by using this link: http://www.spiritualityandpractice.com/ecourses/ecourses.php?id=124.
2) Two offerings by forwardmovement.org: a) online Forward Day By Day - that little devotional booklet is online! Link: http://forwardmovement.org/Today-s-Meditation/; b) Rev. Tim Schenck (one of the 'A Few Good Writers' section of www.geraniumfarm.org is teaming up with Rev. Scott Gunn (Executive Director of Forward Movement) for a series of battles between well and lesser known saints in Lent Madness (it's a basketball reference). Learn about an array of saints, tossed into competition for "The Golden Halo Award". Join in with this link: http://www.lentmadness.org/.
3) Search your diocesan website for local quiet days and retreats. A listing of all diocesan websites are listed here: http://episcopalchurch.org/browse/diocese.
4) Several Episcopal religious orders are offering retreats and/or quiet days either online or at their convents/monasteries. Here are the websites of a few that have come to my attention: a) The Society of St. John the Evangelist - http://ssje.org/lent/ or another link that's intriguing - http://giveupaword.org/; b) Order of the Holy Cross - http://www.holycrossmonastery.com/retreat-programs; c) Order of St. Helena - www.osh.org; d) Community of St. John Baptist - http://www.csjb.org/index.php.
5) Promote Episcopal Relief and Development. This organization saves lives and supports those in need both in this country and throughout the world. Link: http://www.er-d.org/lent/.
6) If none of the above suggestions addresses your needs, you could consider donating a few hours as a volunteer either in your parish (before Easter every church has a 'spruce up' day, whether indoors or out) or some other organization which always needs volunteers: Habitat for Humanity - http://www.habitat.org; your local animal shelter (walk a dog - which will do both of you some good); a local senior center or housing facility, just to name a few.
We here at The Geranium Farm wish each and every one of you an enriching, memorable Lenten journey.