Green Eggs and Us

(reposted from Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin's blog, dated October 18, 2011:

We can learn a lot from Dr. Seuss, or a local CSA, or a child's coloring book.

That is: there's a lot more variety in the world than we think.

Not all carrots are orange; not all potatoes are white; not all watermelons are red; not all bananas are yellow.

According to Plants for a Future, there are 20,000 edible plants in the world today. Yet, fewer than 20 species supply 90% of what the world eats.

It seems that in our rush to be food efficient, we have stripped the grand diversity of nature down to a narrow, pre-digested list and thus suffer the illusion of good-world sameness which leads us to question difference. I will explain.

Food limits lead to three deficits, it seems to me.

1) We are being deprived of many delightful and fascinating food sensations, experiences and nutrients. Even for those of us who keep kosher! All edible plants – in and of themselves – are kosher.

2) We are straining our soils to grow the same food over and over again, draining the land's energies and nutrients in the process. We know the path that global monocultures lead us down. Not good and potentially devastating. (Chocolate and bananas lovers, too, beware.)

3) We learn from our food. As we eat, so we think. If we need our food to be predictable and unblemished, so too, we may be teaching ourselves that other stuff in the world needs to be predictable and unblemished.

Health food establishments such as Whole Foods and Trader Joe's reject fruits and vegetables that have blemishes or are misshapen, arguing that their customers won't buy them. But there is no obvious positive correlation between appearance and taste or value. Just the opposite. We now know that selecting food or flowers for looks often sacrifices flavor (and nutrition?) in food and smell in flowers.

Even more, lots of good food gets wasted (but hopefully processed) both in the industry and in our homes if it is less than perfect looking.

Does this habit of rejecting imperfect affect how we view life altogether? Does it affect how we view "blemished" or "misshapen" people, or how open we are to opinions and beliefs that are different from our own?

As we limit and homogenize the world around us, do we also limit and homogenize our sense of what is right and proper? Are our agricultural monocultures encouraging us to build cultural monocultures (even as the internet opens up unprecedented possibilities of mixing)? Are we increasingly building fortresses around our homes, neighborhoods and nations so that the richness (contamination?) of the "other" is kept at bay?

Even more, are we increasingly seeing our neighbors who deviate from us as the "other": the Tea Party, the Occupy Wall Street, Republicans, Democrats?

There is no doubt that this country is being riven by incivility and efforts to outright delegitimize, denigrate and occasionally demonize the other. I wonder if those who are more accepting of blemished food are more open to honoring the "other"?

(photo: a dozen eggs from Kayam Farm CSA, with one green egg in it)

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