berry pie

Giving thanks in the supermarket era

“And we must all bring Provisions.”
“Bring what?”
“Things to eat.”
“Oh!” said Pooh happily. “I thought you said Provisions.
I’ll go and tell them.” And he stumped off.

The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne

How often do we think of things to eat as provisions–things that have been provided? As families around the nation celebrated Thanksgiving this week, I wondered what provision had to do with it. Historically, of course, thanksgiving celebrations were held in response to good (or at least sufficient) harvests, when the food stores were full, and people could clearly see that enough food had been provided for the coming winter.

But today, as Joel Salatin likes to remind us, families don’t have larders anymore. We no longer store, in or around our homes, enough food to basically get us through the winter. We don’t go down to the cellar in January to see how much food we have left. Nor do we see the need to pace ourselves if the shelves look bare. (Don’t get me wrong. Modern food distribution and technology have allowed our society to weather bad years in ways that subsistence farmers never could.)

But because we don’t have that larder anymore, we don’t actually have visible, tangible provisions to be thankful for. We can’t see our food, let alone be thankful for the provision of that food. In Folks, This Ain’t Normal: A Farmer’s Advice for Happier Hens, Healthier People, and a Better World, Salatin explains the concept of the larder and its critical role:

“Food security is not in the supermarket. It’s not in the government. It’s not at the emergency services division. True food security is the historical normalcy of packing it in during the abundant times, building that in-house larder, and resting easy knowing that our little ones are not dependent on next week’s farmers’ market or the electronic cashiers at the supermarket.”

I would take that a step further and say that in-house food security is a great goal–and one I am pursuing–but ultimately, we rely on God for health and strength and daily bread. And when he provides, there is reason to be thankful. To feast. To delight in the provisions before us.

Every dish I sampled at Thanksgiving was a rich celebration of taste and nourishment. And I spent a lot of time with people I love, and was thankful. But since most of us bought our ingredients from the supermarket, the connection to the land those ingredients came from–the acknowledgement of provision–was lost on many sitting around the table.

I think we’re headed in a good direction, though. Compared to the supermarket-acquired Thanksgivings of my childhood, this year’s tables were liberally dotted with local ingredients, lovingly prepared by relatives. We had my mother-in-law’s delectable dill pickles, our french tarragon pickles, my sister-in-law’s parents’ sweet potatoes, berry and apple pies from summer pickings, and savory local ducks. There may even have been more homegrown, home-preserved food on the table than I’m aware of. I hope so.

In the post-agricultural era, we give thanks for jobs that pay us money to buy food. And this Thanksgiving, I am grateful for the jobs and supermarkets that feed my family. But I cannot help but be extra-thankful for the more tangible, touchable, taste-able provisions. They nourish body and soul, and they taste so good!


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