by Cherice Bock
Editor, Breaking Bread
Sitting down to write this editor’s note, I knew I needed to bake a loaf of bread. Before you get too impressed, I’ll admit that it is now kneading itself in my bread machine, but the simple act of sifting together the ingredients evoked a flood of memories, anticipation, and reflection. I was transported back to my toddler years, kneading flour, yeast, and water together with my aunt, Lori. My mouth watered in the present day, anticipating the smell that will waft through my home in the next few hours as the loaf rises, and the dinner I’ll share with my family tonight: fresh warm bread alongside potato leek soup from our freshly harvested garden produce, with a side of sun ripened tomatoes. I recall staple foods enjoyed in other countries: flatbread cooked in an outdoor stone oven by a Palestinian woman served with a chicken slaughtered for the occasion, and tea and bikkies shared in Belfast between myself and Catholic and Protestant kids, both examples of hospitality, welcome, and reconciliation, of sustenance and shared life in the midst of brokenness. Locally sourced sourdough and wine welcomed my spouse and me when we visited new friends in Switzerland, an invitation into the heart of the place and a celebration of the bounty of the land.
Adding ingredients to my bread, I also thought of the complicated network of people, places, and technology that brought those ingredients to my home: the farmers and other laborers whose names I will never know who nurtured plants to harvest, the machinery involved in planting, harvesting, transporting, packaging, and bringing each item to a store near me, the almost unfathomably large number of places around the globe necessary to create those machines and vehicles, packing products and raw ingredients, just for me to have my “homemade” bread. How were the people treated in each of these stages? Who are they, and what is their story?
In this volume of Whole Terrain, authors and artists explore a range of topics around the theme “Breaking Bread”: the reconciliation and connectedness that can occur from attention to our place within the food web, the breakdown of relationships in many aspects of our globalized food system, and the ethical implications of our food system from genetic modifications to migrant farm labor.
Several authors consider entry points into a more sustainable food system, the implications of participating in food production, and the importance of strong relationships between us and the human beings and other species who produce our food. Lettie Stratton explores an alternative lifestyle at Possibility Alliance in “Slow Living,” working to integrate what she learned into her everyday life. In “A Harvest for All the Senses,” Susan Pollack introduces us to a community supported agricultural endeavor (CSA) in Italy, where she purchases olive oil from farmers she knows personally. Molly Hicks recalls vignettes from a summer of leading a prison garden, the moments of discovering and nurturing of life providing momentary escape from the mental confines of the prison yard in her “Lessons from a Prison Garden: Planting Wheat and Breaking Bread with Nature and Each Other.” “Ruminations” by Abbie Gascho Landis introduces us to dairy farming on a small scale compared to a large scale, and the mental health benefits for both human beings and our bovine allies when the conditions are right.
This theme of interspecies awareness continues in “The Tangled Banquet, A Words & Pictures Story,” a superb graphic essay by Dave Huth. In it, he describes and visually represents the inescapable interconnectivity of all life, with one member of the Earth community serving as food for another in an endless cycle. One portion of this cycle is explored in Joseph Smith’s “Delaware Bay: When shorebirds and shellfish farms compete for habitat, is there room for compromise?” Smith traces the dynamic between migratory shorebirds, horseshoe crabs, oysters, and the human beings who enjoy feasting on oysters and crabs, addressing questions of economic and ecological import. Multiple species break bread together at the unlikely table of a wildebeest carcass, prompting Susan Jane Gentile to reflect on carrion and decomposition as important aspects of the food web in her visual essay “Breaking Bread on the African Savanna.” “Playing God” by Kristen Przyborski brings the interspecies conversation to the microscopic scale, and discusses the ethical implications of genetic modifications of yeast, encouraging a nuanced approach to the politically charged controversy over GMOs.
Food ethics forms the heart of the work of three of our authors and artists. In “Coming to the Table: Farmworker Justice in Ventura County,” Sarah Nolan explains the conditions farmworkers face in Southern California as they grow much of the produce for the United States. She offers an alternative farm production model, as well as a relational approach to place and people. The artwork of Betty LaDuke complements this story well, and visual and written excerpts from her book, Bountiful Harvest, represent farmworkers and landowners in Southern Oregon and elsewhere as they navigate the complexity of producing food ethically and economically. On the other side of the country, Jillian Hishaw approaches access to food, land, and cultural identity in the American South through a creative combination of legal help to ensure farmers can stay on their land, purchasing produce for local food banks to feed rural families, and engaging younger generations in learning about agriculture through the arts.
This volume’s poetry offers glimpses into the poets’ interior worlds as they reflect on the theme of breaking bread. Kim Stafford invites us into memories of bread made from home-grown grain as war brewed in “Our Boy’s Bread,” and the fragrance and meaning of fresh-baked childhood bread in “Primitive Intelligence.” The particular foods of an Ashkenazi Jewish urban childhood come to life in Kaz Sussman’s “temples of salt.” Terry Minchow-Proffitt evokes the dreamlike recollections of childhood landmarks in his “Wonder Bread.”
Finally, the rituals surrounding the preparation and sharing of meals is explored in Gary Paul Nabhan’s “An Ecumenical-Interspecific Communion” and Fadia Jawdat’s “A Recipe for Healing.” Nabhan discusses table fellowship, the ritual of communion, and other food-related themes in the Christian tradition, focusing on the expansive welcome of the table. Jawdat describes her experience as a member of a scattered refugee family, making their way through decades of displacement with family members in a number of countries, reconnecting and celebrating through recipes from home.
Tying these pieces together is the question of what makes us human. Bread in some form, as a staple food in most cultures, symbolizes human life, and becomes our very selves. It ties us directly to the soil, the sun, the water cycle, and the microorganisms, plants, and animals that sustain our ability to do agriculture. Therefore, our food consumption and our connection with how it is produced expands out into the network of all that lives: the transfer of life from one being to another in the food web, and the creative energy flowing through the thriving interspecies community that makes up our world. Breaking Bread invites us each to examine our own connection with production and consumption, and offers a choice of remaining disconnected and unaware, or entering more fully into an integrated web of relations with the other beings with whom we share this planet.
Pretty soon, I will slice into a warm loaf of homemade bread, sharing the table with my family, and offering gratitude for all the human and other beings who brought this bread to our table. You’re welcome to pull up a metaphorical seat at Whole Terrain’s table, entering into this conversation as you break bread with us.