Food for Thought

A guest blog from Jennifer Latham, a good friend of ours, who recently started raising meat rabbits.

It is more or less self-evident that eating together fosters community. Much has been said about the importance of families regularly sitting down to dinner together. Relationships are made or broken over dinner dates; we celebrate weddings with (increasingly) elaborate meals and bring each other condolence casseroles.

It is also fairly clear that cooking together is a special kind of closeness. Common wisdom can attest to the strengthening and healing powers of baking a pie with mom or a batch of brownies with siblings, friends, or lovers, or barbecuing with dad.

But I am really just starting to learn about how much raising and producing food, not just cooking it and eating it, can be an incredibly intimate experience. When we started the rabbit project Linda and I didn’t know each other at all. Linda was the one who procured and housed the rabbits and I was interested and willing to help a little, but it wasn’t until the first slaughter that we realized how much we needed each other and how incredibly intimate it was to perform that act together.

As we work we always end up talking about our lives and she has a wealth of interesting stories from her seventy-odd years to relate. She told me about the circus pony her family adopted for the off-seasons when she was a kid, how she met her husband when they were on a double date in high school–each of them dating someone else, how he drove a cab in New York City when they were in their early twenties. They had always seemed to me like one of those couples that fit together just so, but I learned that they almost split up somewhere on the course of their marriage but stayed together, and how. I learned about how she watched her father raise rabbits in their yard with she was young. I learned about how to garden vegetables from someone who has spent many, many more seasons doing it that I have, and I listened to what it’s like to raise children and grandchildren–which sounds so different coming from someone whose child or grandchild I am not.

I know that there are many people who could perform the act of dispatching a rabbit (even a litter of rabbits) by themselves, but for us it takes the two of us and neither of us can really imagine it any other way. There are moments during the course of the process that–after doing it together so many times–when I am looking at us it looks like four hands operating with one mind.

We joke a little sometimes while we work, a morbid gallows humor that from an outside perspective would seem absolutely ghastly, but we understand each other perfectly. It helps to laugh through something difficult. My ears have burned from Linda’s cussing when a neighbors’ dog started barking as we were trying to calm a rabbit down for slaughter.

We had dinner together on the 4th of July–Linda and I and our two husbands. They are also separated by years but suited to each other in that they both have similar touchingly wholehearted political passions. It is charming to me to watch a very true Yankee and a very Southern man with several generations between them talk about how we can try to do the right thing by each other. We talked during dinner about Pete harvesting from the family farm during the depression and about his lifelong uphill battle as a union negotiator trying to get some basic benefits for people on the very bottom. Stories you really don’t hear unless you sit down to dinner and have a glass of wine with someone and just get going.

At one point during dinner I looked over and Linda and realized clearly and suddenly with a little surprise–I love this person. I have all those tender, admiring feelings for her that I do my closest friends. I love her like an older aunt but also like a best buddy. What started as helping a neighbor with some pretty messy chores ended up bringing me surprisingly close to this person who I just happened to land next door to.

Much has been said about the things that are lost when food production is removed from our homes, our communities, and our lives and outsourced beyond recognition. I never realized how true it was until I actually experienced what I was missing. It makes me wonder how much else that I haven’t even thought of is being skipped over when we snack helter-skelter on anonymous food. I will keep growing my own food because it is a reward in itself, but also, maybe, to find out.

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