I‘ve heard some say they just “eat for fuel,” but when I hear it, I always feel sad inside. I want to cook them everything in my repertoire and show them the joy of food.
Not everyone needs to be a “foodie,” but with this “fuel philosophy,” a major source of feeling alive in the world is lost. There is no connection to one’s food source. There is no pleasure in the process of making a dish. There is no savoring. Case and point: Dung is fuel, but who wants to eat it.
I had been thinking about how so many busy New Yorkers either eat out or order in rather than prepare food themselves. Of course there is a place for eating out in our day-to-day lives, but by continuously eating out, we lose financially, and might I dare say… spiritually?
After the explosions in the sky on the fourth of July, I walked from the western esplanade of Battery Park back towards town. I rounded a corner and there, in the financial district of New York City, two people were tending a garden not far from the World Trade Center on Highway 9A. Their little plot was conjoined with maybe 30 others to make up a community garden. This was so completely random, I had to stop and chat with them.
I asked them why they were involved in a community garden, and the woman said that she wanted to “care for something.” This caring helped her be more connected to life and heal from tragedy. Her mother had recently been terribly injured in a fire, and had lost everything, save a few small plants. The woman was now taking care of her mother at home and was now attending the surviving plants in her plot in the community garden. Something from the ruins of her family’s home would now live and thrive somewhere new.
I asked about the other gardeners. She mentioned that everyone was very in to what they were doing. The plot-tenders had to literally be told to “ONLY tend their own plots.” It was a problem, because they enjoyed gardening so much, they would often water neighboring plots to be helpful if they saw something in distress. But this kept people from their joy of tending. Tending was healing.
The week before the 4th, I had gone to my greenmarket volunteer training, where I discovered that in summer months, greenmarkets expand around Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx, Staten Island and Queens—51 to be exact. One in particular caught my eye. The World Financial Center Greenmarket had just reopened–a sign of continued healing was taking place in the area.
They weren’t just rebuilding skyscrapers and memorials, they were also rebuilding a community. A few days later, I set out to see this healing in action. At South End Avenue and Liberty Street, I found a small but sufficient market within a cul-de-sac under Two World Financial Center. I wandered through the tents and talked to market-goers. A woman who lived in the area was there with her dog “Frankie,” purchasing berries and fresh lavender. There were a few tourists trying the juices for sale. Financial Center employees were purchasing something for lunch or to take home for dinner. I bought sugar plums.
When I had my fill of the sight and smell of the market, I headed towards the construction site tirelessly erecting a new blazing skyscraper–a shining beacon intended to jut into the sky with force and prominence and be surrounded by a serene park. I talked with a couple of the construction workers. One had broad shoulders, and the other had a lot of experience in his eyes.
“Have you noticed that a greenmarket has returned to the area?”
“Oh yeah!” they said excitedly.
“I plan on getting over there on my lunch from time to time,” said the broad-shouldered one.
“Do you think that it will be a successful market?” I asked.
“I think it will be real successful.” the man-with-experience said. “People might not know it, since there’s so much construction, but there is a large community down here, and many tourists as well. I think it’s good they’ve come back. People are pretty happy about it.” I gave them each a sugared plum as thanks for speaking with me. The broad-shouldered one asked jokingly,
“Were these dancing in your head before you arrived at the market?” I laughed,
“Yep! They sure were!”
I wandered back north further into the island, thinking about the healing properties of food. Healing didn’t just come from vitamins and nutrients, but from the community created by farmer, market, and table. A market means life and community are nearby. I know that the gleaming new tower they are building will be spectacular and represent so much to Americans when it’s finished, but this little tiny market and petite community garden at the tower’s feet are just as large a symbol of healing, humanity and sustainability as it is.
I have a friend who told me recently that he’s trying to “enjoy food more” and not think of it as just “fuel.” I don’t know for sure, but maybe there’s a little something telling him that he needs connection and healing. I know where he should start. I’m sending him to a greenmarket.
—Elise McMullen a.k.a. The Galavant Girl