When we visit my husband’s yia-yia and papou (Greek for grandmother and grandfather) in their beautiful home in southwestern Michigan, we are fed delicious foods, served wine with dinner and often have fruit for dessert. They always serve food that is in season or something that they have preserved.
When we visit them in August, we are invited after breakfast to pick up freshly picked corn, which will be our lunch. They will go out again in the afternoon to buy more fresh corn for supper, along with a platter of fresh-sliced tomatoes and cucumbers and homemade bread.
Yia-yia and Papou have given or served my husband and I a wide variety of preserved foods since I have known them, from canned pitted cherries to peach jelly and elderberry jelly to frozen wild grape leaves made into dolmadas (Greek stuffed grape leaves). They taught my mother-in-law to can food. She taught my husband, and from my husband I learned to love preserving food. I am also learning to love eating it while it is in season from our backyard garden and the farmer’s market.
Every Friday in August, I purchased freshly picked corn from the farmer’s market around the corner, and we grilled or boiled it for dinner; and from August through mid-October, we ate lots of cucumbers and tomatoes fresh from our garden. Earlier in the summer, we ate salads for lunch and dinner and lots of sugar-snap peas, all from our garden. In October, we fermented our cabbages to make homemade sauerkraut.
I have 27 cups of homemade tomato sauce and several batches of basil pesto sauce waiting in the freezer for when we need a touch of summer during the bitterly cold Minnesota winter. We have a basement pantry full of canned peaches, applesauce, apple and peach jellies and pints and pints of berry jams.
As I was reading Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si (The Care of Our Common Home), I realized that, in eating local and seasonal foods, we are living out his call to live simply, care for our world and see beauty in nature.
We can live this encyclical in our lives. We can have a right relationship with nature. We can see the beauty of nature.
The Pope wrote, “The universe unfolds in God, who fills it completely. Hence, there is a mystical meaning to be found in a leaf, in a mountain trail, in a dewdrop, in a poor person’s face . … The ideal is not only to pass from the exterior to the interior to discover the action of God in the soul, but also to discover God in all things” (233).
If there is mystical meaning in a leaf, there certainly is in a freshly picked ear of corn. By delighting in the eating of the corn, we are delighting in God’s creation. Eating fresh local food is like seeing a gorgeous sunrise. Eating the preserved food in all of its preserved glory is almost as good. Good food connects us to God, because in eating good food we are experiencing the beauty of the created world, and in experiencing that beauty, we are experiencing God.
Not only is it important for me and my salvation to seek a right relationship with the environment and other creatures, but in doing so I am creating this culture in my family.
The Pope explains that family is the place where we “first learn how to show love and respect for life; we are taught the proper use of things, order and cleanliness, respect for the local ecosystem and care for all creatures. In the family we learn to ask without demanding, to say ‘thank you’ as an expression of genuine gratitude for what we have been given, to control our aggressivity and greed, and to ask forgiveness when we have caused harm. These simple gestures of heartfelt courtesy help to create a culture of shared life and respect for our surroundings” (213).
It is from my husband’s grandparents that I learned more fully how to have a correct relationship with nature. Now in our family life, we are teaching our children, so that they learn the beauty of the food they eat.
When the apple farmer encourages them to try every apple sample and is delighted in the young apple-eaters, we are sharing a common love of a delicious apple. When my children help plant, grow and harvest a garden, they are experiencing God in their cultivation of our garden and their delight in the fruits of our labors.
Being thankful and learning to care for our common home begins in the family, including around the dinner table.
Susanna Spencer writes from
St. Paul, Minnesota.