by Michael Ableman
Los Angeles Times, Thursday, November 24, 2005
In the fall of 1863, in the midst of a civil war that divided the country, Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday of each November to be a national thanksgiving holiday. In his proclamation Lincoln said, “The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed, we are prone to forget the source from which they come”.
This Thanksgiving, a time when our country is divided again, let us not forget the source, and let us try to understand the story of each of the foods that grace our tables.
Consider that the turkey that takes center stage is the product of a long and too often complicated journey, that each turnip or beet or head of lettuce started it’s life as a tiny seed planted in soil, that the herbs and cranberries and chestnuts and yams were brought forth by real people whose hands plant, and feed and nurture and harvest.
Reflect on the fact that each of these foods may have traveled more than a thousand miles from the field to the plate, that it now requires multiple calories of energy to fertilize, cool, and transport each calorie of food we consume. Consider that the majority of the world’s fresh water is used to produce food, of which only a fraction ever reaches the intended plants or animals due to inefficient transport and application methods. Remember the soil, the earth’s placenta; each of us is dependent on it, yet we treat it like dirt.
Think about the one percent of our population we still call farmers, consider the enormous task it takes to feed a predominantly urban world. Remember the farm workers, those whose hands do the hoeing, milking, feeding, and harvesting, men and women who risk their lives to cross the border between Mexico and the US illegally, to do work that most Americans will no longer do. Consider the absurdity of the fact that we guard the borders to keep out the very people who grow and harvest our food.
Think about how fragile and precarious our food system really is. Each of the foods that grace our thanksgiving table are dependent on dwindling oil reserves, diminishing aquifers and people who come here illegally from far away. What if the borders really were closed and all those who slipped in to work in America’s fields removed? What if world populations continue to grow and demands on fresh water cannot be met? What happens when the oil runs out?
As a nation we spend a staggering percentage of tax dollars to fight wars, design and install high tech devices, monitor, inspect, and search; all to supposedly make us more secure. But what is more critical to our security than fresh food and water and living soil? What could be more important than honoring those whose daily work is connected to biology and botany and animal husbandry, those who know how to restore and nurture soil, care for animals, coax food from the earth?
Supporting and participating in local agriculture may be one of the best forms of homeland security. It diminishes our reliance on foreign oil, restores local economies, rebuilds healthy soils, recycles nutrients and water, improves personal health, and increases the pleasure of the table.
As we celebrate this thanksgiving let us not forget the source, let us remember to give thanks to the land and to all those who still work with it.
Michael Ableman is a farmer and author of the new book “Fields Of Plenty: a farmer’s journey in search of real food and the people who grow it”.