On Food: Growing and Eating and Hobbits

David Russell Mosley

the-hobbit215-594x309

Lent
25 February 2016
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Writing to you about food, and not about fasting, feels a bit odd during this Lenten season. However, it is always important to remember that Christianity is primarily a feasting religion which fasts to remind us that we depend on God, not food, for our existence. Nevertheless, today I have read two excellent articles on food that I thought I would share with you, with a little commentary.

The first article I read today came from The American Conservative, an excellent news and opinion source, in my personal opinion. Here author Gracy Olmstead writes an article entitled “Why Cooking Matters.” Olmstead is looking primarily at the work of author Michael Pollan––author of such works as The Omnivores Dilemma and Cooked––to see what importance cooking, even spending much of our time in the cultivation (or hunting) and preparation of the food we eat. For Pollan it is not only good but necessary that we begin to return to older methods of food cultivation and preparation. Failure to do so will result in loss of traditions which will in turn lead to loss of a proper connection to the land.

There are are critics of Pollan, however. Olmstead notes that of New York Times’s Neil Genzlinger who argues that Pollan’s views are too gentrified, unavailable to poor. Olmstead responds that the problem has less to do with this not being available to the poor for financial reasons “but, rather, because we’ve largely lost the skills associated with this work.” Now here I do think Olmstead and Pollan are overlooking the fact that much of this may not be available to those who have to work three full-time jobs just to make ends meet. Rather than the handwringing of Genzlinger, however, I would argue that this is reason enough to fight for political changes to make it easier for the poor among us to have access to good, healthy food and the means to cultivate and prepare it. This may also require re-education and new habits to be formed. We have been so habituated to the processed that for many the organic tastes bad. It took me a long time to love the flavor of organic vegetables or even grass fed beef. Nevertheless, I think these things worth our time.

The second article I read was an older article from The Distributist Review by Robert Hutchinson entitled, “How to Eat like a Hobbit.” Hutchinson begins by reminding us of the importance of food in Tolkien’s work. Hutchinson notes, that, “there is more eating than fighting in The Lord of the Rings.” And many are often either driven mad, or to laughter, by how often Bilbo is pining after bacon and his larder in The Hobbit. Hutchinson notes that unlike our industrialized farming of today, hobbits and the other free folk of Middle-earth benefit from what can only be called organic small farms (albeit there were no pesticides in the third age so to call the farms organic is certainly anachronistic on my part). Not everyone was a farmer, but what farmers there were were the primary source of food in the local economies. This Hutchinson sees as a good, and I agree.

Hutchinson then transitions his article from hobbits to our own situation. He notes that even when we see numerous brands on the grocery store shelves many, if not all, of them come from the same farms, are packaged in the same factories, and are distributed by the same distributors. “[B]y some estimates,” Hutchinson writes, “just four companies now produce 90% of the food consumed in the United States: Cargill, Tyson Foods, General Mills and Kraft.” This is not a good, says Hutchinson. This leads to bad growing practices, to a desire for uniformity which causes sellers and growers to use artificial means to keep their food “looking nice” when they hit grocery store shelves. Hutchinson, however, is not content simply to detail the woes, but offers real solutions we can take as individuals, families, and local communities. I will reproduce those in full here:

“1. Go organic. Whenever possible, begin buying organic food, especially when it comes to meat and dairy products. Organic products are more expensive so every family and individual has to adjust their purchases for their own economic situation. Many people believe that, for health reasons, switching to organic, free-range meats and dairy is more important than organic vegetables because of the use of growth hormones and antibiotics in meat and dairy.

2. Buy local only. Almost every town and city in North America and Europe hosts farmer’s markets where the few remaining family and small farms come to sell locally grown produce. There are now also hundreds of websites where you can quickly and easily identify stores in your area that sell locally grown produce.

3. Eat in season. This is the hardest step of all to take. That’s because globalization means that consumers in prosperous nations have gotten used to eating whatever they want, whenever they want it, regardless of the season. But again, convenience comes at a high cost: the fruits you buy in January are picked unripe and artificially ripened with ethylene gas or calcium carbide (yum, yum!). Buying foods in season, however, has the effect of encouraging a far more diverse diet than would otherwise be the case: apricots in April, cherries in May, blueberries and raspberries in June.

4. Start your own garden. One reason to start your own garden is because it sensitizes you to what you’re missing by eating only mass-produced industrial food. Anyone who has ever tasted a homegrown heirloom tomato grown on the vine has trouble going back to the tasteless, “pre-ripened,” dyed-red globules sold in most supermarkets. Even if you only have a few green pepper plants sprouting on your balcony in your high-rise apartment, it is a vivid reminder of the Shire and why you should go out of your way to find “Hobbit-grown” foods whenever you can.

5. Join the Urban Chicken movement. Thousands of families in urban and suburban settings have set up small chicken coops in their back yards, sometimes disguised as children’s playhouses. The fun of growing chickens is heightened by getting dozens of “farm fresh,” organically produced, nutritious eggs.

6. Eat less meat. Hobbits are not vegetarians and neither are most human beings. Yet their favourite foods are grown in the wild, particularly mushrooms. Many people are finding that a return to the so-called “paleolithic diet,” the diet of our hunter-gather ancestors, can result in surprising health benefits and even weight loss. This is a diet made up primarily of fruits and vegetables with occasional lean meat dishes.

7. Lobby for labeling. The industrial food lobby, aided by most national governments, has fought tooth and nail against food labelling requirements. The Big Food lobby has been especially fierce in its opposition to labels for Genetically Modified (GM) foods since so many consumer food products today now contain genetically altered plants, such as corn. It is also opposed to mandatory labelling for products that contain growth hormones, antibiotics, pesticides and so on. That’s because the food industry does not want consumers “voting with their pocketbooks” and choosing organic foods that do not contain these chemical additives.”

While not every individual or family will be able to do all of these at once, I do want to encourage you to do what you can. I said at the beginning that writing about food during Lent felt odd. However, there is at least one upside to writing about this at the tail end of February. For many of us these suggestions will be easier to follow as Spring inches nearer. My wife and I are already planning out our allotment for this season, so we can grow at least some of the food we eat. We are also fortunate to live in an area with many small or at least non-industrialized farms nearby so that as the season begins we can buy fresh, local, and often organic produce, we can even pick our own and jam and can. What is important, however, is that these things are good to do. They are good because they are often healthier options; they are often more economically and environmentally viable options. More importantly, however, they are more Christian options. We are called to be stewards of Creation. What is more, we act as priests for the rest of physical creation at least (I think also for angelic, but that’s another subject for another day). It is our job to offer back our gratitude and our very selves to God as priests offering sacrifices. For this reason we must find more just ways to cultivate and consume our food. The two articles above, if we read them and take them to heart, can help us do precisely that. Cheers.

Sincerely,
David

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Old Posts for Tolkien Reading Day and the Feast of the Annunciation

David Russell Mosley

Nostalgia

The Feast of the Annunciation
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Today is the day Frodo destroyed the ring, by way of Gollum, and the day we celebrate the archangel Gabriel announcing to Mary that God desired her to be with child. In honour of both events, here are some posts I’ve previously written. I hope you enjoy.

Fiat and Doom, Mary and Frodo: Feast of the Annunciation and Destruction of the Ring

The Sacramental Imagination of The Hobbit

The Sacramental Imagination of Smith of Wooton Major

On The Economics of Elfland: In Honour of J. R. R. Tolkien’s Birthday

The Eucharist Is the End of Marriage: J. R. R. Tolkien’s Advice to His Son

Sincerely,
David

The Sacramental Imagination of The Hobbit

David Russell Mosley


Ordinary Time
Richard Hooker
03 11 2014
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Today I want to continue our conversation about forming a sacramental imagination in children. As I said before, I want to focus on the works the helped form my imagination as a child. The first book on the list, therefore, is J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. I am limiting myself to The Hobbit because attempting a brief overview of the sacramental imagination in this book will be hard enough without also delving into The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion, or what’s more, the History of Middle Earth series. Therefore, if you read this post and see that I’ve left out Ents, Galadriel’s Mirror and phial, silmarils, etc., you will understand why.

As I’ve said on multiple occasions, there has never been a particularly long period of my life where The Hobbit has not featured in it. It is one of the earliest books that was read to me in the cradle and his been my closest companion these many years. The book, for those who haven’t read it or seen the first two films of the trilogy based on it, is about a hobbit, a creature of about three and half to four feet tall called Bilbo Baggins. Bilbo lives a rather bourgeois life. He’s a bachelor, has a well stocked larder (pantry), doesn’t seem to need to work any longer at the middle age of fifty (hobbits living to 100 as like as not). He doesn’t have much use for anything he can’t see with his own two eyes and anything fantastic he believes in, say dragons or goblins or even wolves, merely frightens him at the possibility of their existence. He is, for all intents and purposes, a rather standard, post-enlightenment, upper middle class gentleman. Then all of a sudden he encounters a wizard and not long after thirteen dwarves who convince him to go on an adventure.

Bilbo is meant to represent us in the story in many ways. Even in height he rather matches many of the children who would about his stories. Of course most of them, and us, would not be quite so stolid as Bilbo, bemoaning missing handkerchiefs, desiring pipe tobacco (from experience anyway), etc. But still, like Bilbo, most of us have never seen dwarves or wizards or elves or goblins or dragons or great kingdoms carved out of mountains. If we knew the dangers, I dare say most of us would rather stay home and eat bacon than go attempt to steal treasure from a sleeping dragon. And yet, like Bilbo, we don’t know the danger and so, as he goes on his adventure, we join him, and we, like him, gain something in the end.

It is obvious, when you reach the end of the book, that Bilbo has changed. He has encountered goblins, Gollum, a dragon, dangerous elves, rock giants, and more. And yet, he does not leave behind his old self completely. He still loves good food and drink more than treasure; he still dreams of bacon and enjoys throughout his adventures smoking his pipe (the very scene with which the book ends). Yet as he sings his song, ‘Roads Go Ever, Ever On’, as Gandalf notices, he is not the same hobbit he was at the beginning. He has been transformed. The narrator casts this transformation in two different sets of terms. The first is prose versus poetry; the second, Took versus Baggins. In the Took and Baggins dichotomy, nothing is lost. Bilbo is as much a Baggins at the end as at the beginning, but he is a Tookish Baggins or a Bagginsish Took. He still, as I’ve said, loves good food and pipes by the fire, but now his guests are not simply other hobbits, but dwarves, wizards, and even elves. From prose to poetry, however, there is truer transformation. Bilbo takes no part in the songs sung throughout the book, though he is at times moved by them. I think it striking that Bilbo does not, so far as we know, sing until the very end of the book where he not only sings, but sings a song of his own creation and what’s more, his own creation on the spot! Bilbo, the narrator tells us, was never so prosy as he imagined, but at the end he no longer even imagines himself prosy, he is now a poet.

I think it is this that helps us form a sacramental imagination, the dual recognition that we need not leave this life behind in commitment to a sacramental cosmos, just as Bilbo must not leave behind Baggins to become a Took. We can still love food and comfort, but now because we know the depth of these things, because now we know with whom we dine for Christ is present at every meal, though much more so and in a different way at one in particular. Nevertheless, the more we give in to the sacramental cosmos, the more we become poets, leaving behind pure prose. Thus, not only how we see the world has been changed, but how we talk about it has been changed as well. This is, in part, what we, like Bilbo, gain at the end of the story, a wider context in which to live our lives and new language in which to describe it.

Sincerely yours,
David

More Tolkien: Looking forward to the Hobbit

Dear Friends and Family,

I just came across another video with Alison Milbank and thought I’d share it along with some other Tolkien related things I like.

Also, make sure you check out The Tolkien Professor Podcast. Dr Corey Olsen has been doing this podcast for three years now and has provided some excellent insight into both Tolkien’s work and the Faerie tradition. Check out the podcast here. Also, make sure you check out his online Master’s program in English and Tolkien Studies here, called the Mythgard Institute. Finally, stop by The Tolkien Professor website and give it a once over. As they say on their website, click friend, and enter.

Ok, that’s probably all the Tolkien news from me today. I hope you enjoy. Look forward to a post from me once I’ve seen the film.

Yours,

DavidNostalgia

Before The Hobbit

Dear Friends and Family,

As The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, arrives on the silver screen for all peoples, I thought I would post two videos concerning Tolkien’s excellent work. The first is a video from the intelligent and wonderful Alison Milbank. The second is a video from myself on the first two, and only, so far as we know, two poems/songs that will be featured in the first film. I hope you enjoy and like me, anticipate seeing this film with much joy.

Yours,
David