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No Potatoes!

‘ What? No potatoes?’ I wailed! To understand the significance of this cri de coeur – you need to understand two things.

First I’ll take you to a conference where a Dutch friend of mine and I stood at a lunch-time food counter. The food offerings were generous but potato-less. That’s when he muttered his memorable line: ‘a day without potatoes is a wasted day’. I have a strong tendency to agree!

The other important context for my outcry is that I had just read an email from our church organics co-operative which I joined about a month before lockdown. There are a lot of things I like about being a member of this co-operative. I like the fact that we are working together as a group of friends who exchange more than just food orders. There are recipes and recommendations. I’ve learned a lot! And I like the fact that every week we are able to buy organic food at substantially less than it would cost in the supermarket. The eco-friendly suppliers seem to be committed environmentalists committed to sustainable business principles. The flavour of the fruit and vegetables is to die for! And, of course, there is the significant comfort of knowing that we are not consuming hidden chemicals.

But since I’ve participated in this co-operative organics business, I’ve learnt some home truths and been reminded of others. The first is the power of demand. Our ordering process is only successful if enough of us want enough of a particular product for us to buy the bulk. I’ve stopped ordering gooseberries – not enough other people in the group like them – fair enough! I had a similar but opposite recognition when lots of people discovered the various benefits of a gluten and/or dairy free diet. Suddenly all sorts of exciting new products appeared on supermarket shelves – ‘consumer demand! The power (and responsibility?) we all exercise to change the market.

Then there’s the food quality. I’ve actually been surprised at the high quality of the organic food in general. But some of the real differences between regular and organic food struck me when I got organic strawberries for the first time. I was disappointed! Comparing the fragile organic berries to the enormous plump red berries that I love in the supermarket made me explore how strawberries are grown. I discovered that strawberries are one of the ‘dirty dozen’ list of fruit and vegetables most exposed to pesticides. A group member who had worked in a growing area told me they sprayed tomatoes with chemicals several times a day. Depressing but true!

But perhaps the most marked effect of belonging to this group has been to remind me regularly just how dependent my human family and I l are. Not only upon the goodness of the earth in which all our food grows but also upon the ethical values, knowledge, and respect for nature of those who grow it. Not to mention those who transport and sell it.

My ‘entitled’ outcry this week when, for some reason, the potatoes didn’t arrive, reminded me once again of my need not only to say but to mean the words of our family grace, these days being chanted by our grandchildren, ‘For every cup and plateful, God make us truly grateful!”

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