Monday, June 13, 2011

Pagan Values: Eating Gi

Jews have kosher law, Muslims have halal, Hindus have dietary laws in the Dharmaśāstra, and I eat local/organic when I can.  For me, my good friend, K, and many other Pagans, it's more than just being a locavore or eating like a hippie. There are distinct religious connotations behind the reasons we choose to eat this way, but we really don't have a word that describes this. K suggested eco-kashrut, but we both agreed that it didn't quite fit our meaning. I would like to propose the term "eating Gi" as an alternative.
Gi, or Γη, simply means Earth in Greek and it is our connection to the Earth as Pagans that often is the motivation behind how we conduct ourselves. This is integral to the Pagan tendency to be involved in environmentalism because many of us are of the understanding that being good to the Earth is no different than being good to ourselves. By "eating Gi" we're literally eating the Earth (or, rather, her fruits).

This, then, is the principle behind "eating Gi." It is not so much a set of restrictive laws or rules, but rather an ideal to work toward. Here again, we go back to the Hellenic idea of arete. If it is that I'm aiming for arete in my profession, in the upkeep of my body, in my relationships with other people and with the Theoi, there's no reason not to extend this to my eating habits. I'll try to lay out some of the ideals here. I suppose we can call them the Gi principles.

1. Organic: Whenever I walk down the aisle in the big home-improvement stores with all the pesticides, herbicides, and chemical fertilizers, I feel physically ill. The idea of these poisons on the Earth, in the water, and in my food is horrific to me. Factory farming is a huge contributor to soil and water contamination from these very things, not to mention the fact that these poisons are on and in the food. To reduce the amount of poisons in my body and on the Earth, I try to eat organic whenever possible.

2. Local: First of all, local food tastes better. It just does. I had a blackberry cobbler for breakfast from locally picked blackberries and sweet gods, it was good. Secondly, I find it ridiculous to eat something trucked and shipped in from other entire continents when it grows just fine up the road a piece. Why would I eat an apple from New Zealand when I can get them from Tennessee? Why eat a peach from Chile when I can get better ones from Georgia? I would find it equally ridiculous to eat Georgia peaches in Chile. Buying food that grows closer to home means not only an improvement in flavor and quality, but helps to reduce fossil fuel consumption. The less your food has to travel, the less fuel is required to get it to your fridge. I'm not going to go into the many benefits of reduced fuel consumption, but it is better for the Earth and better for us.

3. Humane: Happy cows taste better. Happy chickens lay tastier eggs. Just like with organic food, which might be considered as humane treatment of vegetables and fruits, meat producers that care for their animals by letting chickens eat bugs and letting cows do cow things and goats do goat things, by not poisoning them with growth hormones and excessive use of antibiotics, produce a better product. Remember that what goes in and on your food goes in to you. Additionally, the way we treat animals is reflective of the way we treat each other. If we want to be good human beings, we should be good to animals. Meat doesn't come from a cellophane-wrapped polystyrene tray at the grocery store. It comes from a living being and all living beings are deserving of a certain amount of basic respect. Cows, goats, sheep, and even pigs and chickens are sacred to a number of gods, so why not treat them as such? For some, this might extend into choosing not to eat them at all, so I would place vegetarianism here as well.

4. Whole: Organic food is one thing, unprocessed food is quite another. Take a look some time at a box of marshmallow cereal. How many things are on there that you can't pronounce? Again, we return to the idea that what's in your food goes into you. If I don't know what it is, I don't want it in me. I must admit to a weakness for marshmallow cereal, but I try to aim to eat things that I recognize. It's easier to reduce salt and other bad-for-you things this way and easier to eliminate or identify allergens. I know that if I make a peach pie from scratch, it's going to have wheat, but not citric acid or nuts. I'll know there are no chemical preservatives or fake colors or flavors. These things have been linked to all manner of maladies and both production and consumption of them is bad for us and bad for the earth.

5. Heirloom: I'd like to extend this idea both to older varieties of produce and to older farming practices. In regards to the former, large-scale agriculture often results in producing enormous monocultures of corn, tomatoes-- whatever is being produced. This means that every plant is exactly like every other plant in the field and it is a disaster waiting to happen. Natural selection favors variety and when there is a pathogenic fungus, bacteria, or insect that is resistant to chemical control, there is the potential for a disastrous loss of crops in a monoculture. When I say "disastrous," I mean "Irish potato famine" level of bad. Heirloom varieties are naturally variable in resistance to disease and pests, meaning that loss of one variety of tomatoes, for example, isn't necessarily going to mean loss of all your tomatoes. GMO crops are unnecessary and if you ask me, there's a bit of hubris involved when we think we can do better than the Earth herself.

As for older farming techniques, there is wisdom here as well. If we're not going to increase yield or reduce pests by using poisons, we have to look to other means. Here is where we draw upon the wisdom of our ancestors. In the absence of chemicals, they were very innovative in learning how to tend to the needs of their crops and we have much to learn from them. I even extend this to spiritual practice and it is important to me, as a Pagan, not only to celebrate at times of planting and harvest, but to plant and harvest at these times. It's one thing to celebrate Beltaine. It's quite another to do so because if you don't plant tomatoes, there won't be any. It's one thing to celebrate Samhain. It's quite another to know that this is your last chance for pumpkins.

I'm not perfect at this and, frankly, can't afford to eat Gi as much as I'd like to, but by keeping in mind that what's good for the Earth is good for me and by being mindful of what I'm putting into my body, I honor the gifts of the gods. To me, that's what food is. It is the holy union between Earth, Sun, and water, given to us so that we might live and be happy. God and nature are not separate for me and for many Pagans, so eating Gi becomes more than eating for health and environment. It is a way for me to connect with my gods and to honor them. So, next time you see me grinning and thanking god the peaches finally came in, you'll know it's not hyperbole.

ETA: A story on NPR about Barry Estabrook's book, Tomatoland, illustrates perfectly why I eat this way. When my choices are tasteless trucked-in poison orbs or tasty ripe ethical fruit, it's really no contest.


magickal_realism said...

This is quite thought-provoking; I too have environmental concerns when I made my food selections. For the time being, I've settled on a combination of what I can grow in my apartment, what I can get at the farmer's market, and what my budget will allow.

Jess, of the bugs said...

Yeah, that's me too. I would that my budget were bigger, but we do what we are able. If everyone were to do the same, the difference in the health of both the earth and ourselves would be astounding. It takes many stitches to make a sock and I'm glad to contribute my little bit.

black_magdalene said...

Have you read "The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World" (2001. ISBN 978-0-375-50129-6) by Michael Pollan. You would appreciate the history, science and holiness he presents. I think I've mentioned on the Hellenic listserv too, simply because of his comparison of Johnny Appleseed to Dionysus.

black_magdalene said...

Have you read "The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World" (2001. ISBN 978-0-375-50129-6) by Michael Pollan. You would appreciate the history, science and holiness he presents. I think I've mentioned on the Hellenic listserv too, simply because of his comparison of Johnny Appleseed to Dionysus.