I honestly believe, as humans, that teachable moments have a way of finding us; when we least expect to have our world turned upside down, we find ourselves staring at the ground. This (wholly true) story works to prove my case.
While living with a local family in San Jose Succotz, Belize, a small village just minutes from the Guatemalan border, I developed a meaningful relationship with my home stay brother. To this day, I could not tell you his age; he liked to argue with his mom, who provided a different age than those who knew him well. For the purposes of my story, he was 13.
During our first afternoon together, my brother, American friend and I walked around the village to prepare dinner. We made brief stops in several homes, purchasing each villager’s “specialty.” One woman owned a commercial refrigerator for ice, another passionately grew bananas, and another sold fully-dressed chickens. Each family seemed to feel empowered by their product–they made a contribution to the village and the village made a contribution to the family. This process, I learned, represents as the essence of local eating.
That evening, after hours of soccer and a meal made from the ingredients we gathered, I sat down beside my brother and engaged in small talk. He wanted none of it. “What do you grow in your yard?” he asked. I paused, taken back by the authenticity of the moment. Just hours before, his family walked me through their yard, which, at first judgement, seemed dirty and unkempt. Fruits, vegetables and herbs filled every inch of open land, displaying an ungroomed, overgrown plot in need of refinement. I didn’t understand.
“You know, we don’t grow anything,” I sheepishly replied. “Well, where do you get your food?” my brother continued. I stopped again, with thoughts of the American food system stalling my response. “Well, we…we drive to the grocery store, and buy everything we need.” I wanted to include that “our” foods originate nowhere near our homes, where they conveniently find their way to our grocery stores at extremely low prices.
“So, what the heck do you use your yard for?” he boldly asked, with more confusion than ever before. Entirely defeated, I responded, “Well, in America, its important that our yards…look nice.”
There I sat, staring at the ground.
I knew, in this moment, that I learned my lesson. Through the eyes of a 13ish-year old boy, I discovered one of the many foils of the American food system. We see Belizeans and other “developing nations” as resource-less and in need of relief. But does this family really need my support? Or does my family need theirs?
As I think about this sacred moment in my Belizean journey, I cannot help but consider the land’s providence. Suddenly, a Dole banana from Giant seems so unsacred. Have we completely lost sight of a responsible food system? Could we truly live off the land?
“Shipping is a terrible thing to do to vegetables. They probably get jet-lagged, just like people.” (Elizabeth Berry)