Thanksgiving Reflection

At this time of year, it’s popular to think about sharing food and access to food. Our post-harvest holiday traditions reinforce thankfulness and community. Massachusetts has one of the largest gaps in the nation between the wealthiest and poorest households. The Greater Boston Food Bank says that one in 9 people in Eastern Mass do not know where their next meal will come from.

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A recent article in the Boston Globe about inequality in Cambridge talks specifically about food prices. “Housing isn’t the only thing that’s gotten more expensive as Kendall Square’s influence spreads. Johnnie’s Foodmaster, the low-cost grocery store in nearby Inman Square, is now a Whole Foods. Hi-Fi Pizza and it’s $2 slices are gone, soon to be replaced by a Clover Food Lab serving $6 chickpea fritter sandwiches. The dollar store is closed, too.” Meanwhile, the community’s food pantry serves around 1200 people per month. While we continue to plan for wealthy consumers and residents who we think will be moving into these areas in the future, we neglect affordable housing and food for the residents who live in our neighborhoods now.

Agricultural policies are an important part of how we can reduce hunger in urban areas. Including community agriculture, like public gardens, and making sure that zoning in new and planned luxury commercial and residential areas includes allowances for local agriculture.

On a larger scale we need to be thinking about how we source and consume our food globally. Dan Nicke, associate director of the Iowa Waste Reduction Center, mentioned that “forty percent of all the food in this country never makes it to the table — at a cost of $165 billion to the U.S. economy.” According to the US Department of Agriculture one in seven Americans struggled with struggled with hunger in 2013.

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There is a staggering gap in what is sourced, created and consumed. We have an obligation to bridge the gap between what is being eaten and what is being wasted.

 

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The Solitude Challenge

This week I had an assignment for one of my classes to contemplate the role of technology in my personal life, and how the tools of technology both legitimize and dismantle our ideas of solitude and isolation. To start the assignment, I sat alone in a room in my house without any technology, other people, or reading material.

I need solitude, which is to say, recovery, return to my self, the breath of a free, light, playful air — Friedrich Nietzsche

Being away from technology doesn’t intimidate me. Maybe that’s because I grew up in a home without a lot of technology. We didn’t have a television or gaming system, and when we wanted entertainment, we had only ourselves as resources. Of course, with acres of land and four siblings, I wasn’t exactly challenged for ways to spend my time, but I did have to rely on my own imagination for entertainment and had to learn to be comfortable with empty spaces and long silences. I feel that I’ve brought a great deal of that into my adult life. In my home, I try to encourage my family and friends to set their phones aside, for example.

So, in many ways, I thought this assignment would be fairly uneventful.

But then I realized how accustomed I’ve become to “doing” something. About ten minutes in, my brain was leap-frogging from topic to topic, making mental lists of things to do at work tomorrow, reminding myself to price out snow tires on the Internet, wondering which of our friends had replied to an email thread inviting them to a birthday celebration.

This blogger calls them “thought goblins.” Maybe I wasn’t meditating, or longing for nirvana, but I still felt that nagging question of “Am I doing this right?” and “I can’t seem to relax.” I realized that, for me, relaxation often comes when I’m reading a book, listening to a beautiful piece of music, watching a movie, or talking with my partner. In this moment of solitude, when asked to empty my life of all the “things” that I do, you might imagine that I would find relaxation and peace, but instead I felt tense.

Maybe that comes from my parents, who never stopped working or looking for a project. In spare moments, my mother would throw up the piano lid and play a song or two. My father would find something to fix and, if there was nothing to fix, he might start “fixing” things which weren’t really broken.

A man and his thoughts...
from Giampaolo Macorig “A Man and His Thoughts”

But as the minutes ticked by, and tick they did, I found myself settling into a more comfortable place. Yes, my mind was still working, but now in larger and larger concentric circles. I thought about a piece of music I’d heard on the way home, the way, at that crucial moment in the song, the melancholy guitar solo was joined by joyous human voices. I thought about how I might want to redecorate the room I was sitting in. And then, for awhile, nothing at all that I can remember.

That reminded me of this awesome TED talk about the science of mind wandering, which found (yes, there’s an app for that) a strong connection between moments of human happiness and day-dreaming or mind-wandering.

I like the idea that there is something restorative in letting ourselves be “not busy” and “not surrounded.” That our brains, freed from restraint, might meander in ways that actually make us healthier or happier.