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Eat your vegetables!

Market Woman at a Vegetable Stand by Pieter Aertsen, 1567
Pope Francis asked us to receive his encyclical, Laudato Si', with an open mind.  We need humility to accept God is the Creator and we are the created. We need enlightenment to see all life is a gift but human life is uniquely made in the image of God. Because of our exceptionalism we need wisdom to be good stewards of life on earth.

The entire encyclical is a call to conversion which means each of us needs to take an honest look at our lives and lifestyle to see where our relationships with God, with other people, and with nature need improvement. This evaluation must be based on reason, not emotions. For example, many of us want to do our part and recycle and we feel good when we throw our paper, glass and plastics into the  big blue recycling bin. Yet, this article in the Washington Post shows how our emotional need to do something and be "green" may lead us to misguided efforts that accomplish little and may actually harm the environment. Pope Francis points out in Laudato Si'  our efforts to be good stewards must be based on science that is truly free from ideological and political biases.

One area that I have been working on for the last several years is to make my eating habits more ecologically friendly. Now, I must say that I chuckle every time I see an environmentalist rallying around meatless Mondays as if abstaining from meat one day a week is new innovation. We Catholics have been going meatless at least one day a week for centuries. We just do it on Friday as an act of penance to join our sacrifice with that of Christ. But there are some new considerations for planning my family meals that I think make our meal times more environmentally friendly.

I have become a huge fan of shopping for locally grown meat, dairy, and produce. When we insist on eating strawberries in December, we end up with bland pale orbs that offer but a subtle reminder of what strawberries are supposed to taste like but cannot compare to the freshly picked juicy red berry that shows up in the farmers markets in spring. In addition to offering second-rate flavor, the out-of-season strawberry shows up in our grocery stores only after great expenditures of energy to transport them hundreds or even thousands of miles.

In addition to making our lives more energy efficient, eating what is in season and locally grown makes our lives richer as we celebrate the arrival of our favorite fruits and vegetables. We rediscover the rhythms of nature. In Germany, the arrival of asparagus is the cause of grand celebrations and festivals. Here in Virginia I savor the berries of spring followed by the corn, tomatoes, peppers, and squash of summer followed by the apples, pears, pumpkins, and other squash of autumn. I am becoming more adept at freezing and canning produce when it is in season so I can still enjoy it when it is not.

I joined a farm co-op and get a weekly box of produce straight from the growers. I am learning to cook vegetables that I would never have tried otherwise. I found out I really like both turnips and collard greens. I have also learned that while produce can make a beautiful still-life paining, fruits and vegetables do not have to be picture perfect to be both healthy and tasty. I was appalled to learn how much of our food supply is plowed under because it is not pretty enough to sell. Being willing to eat "ugly" produce prevents the waste of both perfectly edible food and the resources required to grow it.

Buying local food does not have to be an all or nothing endeavor. Here in Virginia I will never have locally grown bananas, avocados, and mangos so I will still rely on imported produce. But if there is a local alternative, I will try to wait for the season and celebrate the bounty of home.











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