Wednesday, 30 September 2009

A Return to Tradition

by Thomas, from A Growing Tradition

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My father and I at Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania (1986)

I used to wonder what it was that had led me to become the gardener and, for lack of a better word, "foodie" that I am today. Why do I sniff and fondle all of my produce, wince at the newest processed food to hit the market, and notice that the supermarket shelves seem to contain more packaging then food these days? Why do I spend hours cultivating the soil in my yard, battle against insects and neighborhood wildlife, and dream of ways to extend my growing season? And why do I feel nothing but perfect contentment every time I visit a local farm, comb through the booths at my local farmer's market, and spend all day cooking up a traditional feast for my friends and family?

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This year's fall garden

As I flipped through the yellowing pages of an old family photo album a few months ago, it struck me that I've become the consumer, gardener, cook (and to a certain extent, husband and parent) that I am now not because of what I've read in the Op-Ed section of the New York Times or seen depicted in a PETA hidden video. I am who I am because of how I was raised by my father. Glued to each page of this album were photos taken during countless food celebrations, fishing excursions, and farm visits that seem to span all of the years of my childhood. Then there were the many trips to Chinatown, outdoor produce markets, and botanical gardens - the sights and smells of which I can still recall vividly. Lastly, there were the photos taken of me and my four siblings playing in our father's wondrous urban vegetable garden, a now mystical place that I long to return to but never will.

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A recent harvest of red globe radishes

As I took that trip down memory lane, I began to realize that over the years, I've slowly developed into a person that's a lot like my father in a way (though not nearly as brave). He was the quintessential Luddite, always insistent on doing things the traditional or what I used to consider the "old-fashioned" way. As a result, all family traditions were strictly observed and ceremoniously carried out. He was a modest person who would rather risk a stomach ache than let any food, good or bad, go to waste. By the same token, he was also someone who knew how to revel in a good meal and often ate and drank to excess. All of these things used to mystify me about my father until I grew to understand that he was of a generation that had witnessed and experienced true human suffering. After the Vietnam War, he saw our family through periods of famine, planned our death-defying escape from a Communist regime, kept us hopeful during our time at the refugee camps, and brought us to the United States in hopes of a better life. I soon realized that if I have had to endure hunger and the type of familial/cultural separation my father had experienced during his lifetime, matters of food and tradition would become all the more important to me as well.

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An assortment of hardy winter crops

So as I consider the reasons why I strive to live a greener life, I find the ones closest to home to be the most compelling. While issues such as what's wrong with our agricultural industry, what deadly toxins might be lurking in our food, or what is lacking in our current energy policy are matters of urgency on a national and global scale, these things only drive me personally to a certain extent. Ultimately, I grow the vegetables I grow, cook the foods I cook, and live the way I do because I hope to preserve something that was handed down to me by my father many years ago - a tradition of growing one's own food, nurturing one's family, and celebrating one's culture.

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A traditional recipe - autumn fruit pie

What are some of the reasons why YOU strive for a greener life?

Footnote - As a new contributor to the Co-op, I am excited to be able to share with our readers my personal experiences and endeavors at living a greener life. Those of you who've read my personal blog know that I am just beginning this journey of mine. Surely I will have my fair share of setbacks and failures and therefore will be writing purely from a non-guru perspective, which to me is the most honest and entertaining point of view to have. I've learned a great deal from other "green" bloggers and hope that I'll be able to inspire others in my own small way. Until next time!