I grew up in a city of train tracks, a city that aims to overflow. A city that takes pride in sending its name out across the country stamped on boxes and cartons and cans. Now far away from my childhood home I delight to find that name in small letters at the grocery store, a reminder of my neighbors and friends and the people who made West Chicago smell like Cinnamon Toast Crunch.
The "local food" movement has incriminated foods that come from far away because of a dirty list of nasties, like fuel prices and preservatives. But a real place is defined by its exports, good and bad. Families, communities, cities, and regions shouldn't be striving to be introverted islands of sustainability.
They should aim to overflow. By their fruit you shall know them. Busting out through huge steel infrastructure if need be, covering thousands of miles.
West Chicago (the suburb) was a great place to grow up, a place with a profound identity. Where companies like General Mills, and Campbells were not impersonal and ill-motivated corporations, but pay check providers, whose productivity was tangible. From food on the table to the smell in the air, the town is sustained by mass-production. The air outside of my high school was thick with it. It was the smell (and practically taste) of growing mushrooms.
To be clear, there was no fungus problem at the school, but Campbell's Cream of Mushroom Soup must be made, and where it is, I guarantee you people are smelling it. Most of my generation was raised on Cream of Mushroom Soup-based dinner conglomerates, and good for us--but I digress.
My hometown is not the only place that lives on its exports. Most places do. The wheat fields of the Palouse - whose smells and patterns and colors are what makes this place our place - are not grown for us. The harvest of "our fields" is enough to feed several small countries (and it does), but it is a part of us. Our community would not be our community without it.
Food and food related issues are very hip right now. Our culture is desperately struggling to capture nostalgic and "genuine" community, to slow down and become more "local" through our eating, (tweeting throughout the meal to keep everyone posted on our efforts, if possible). While torn with guilt at every act of consuming, it is a sham salvation offered through consuming. Eat the right things and it will mean something. Don't eat sugar cereal and you are doing something special. Eat what you grew in the back yard and you are really starting to get somewhere. And while it is true that fellowship around the table defines a people, it is not what we are putting into our mouths that defines us. It is our exports - what is coming out of our mouths. Are we thankful? Even for Cinnamon Toast Crunch? Then we are productive members of our community. Do we fail to find mercy on our plate if it developed a carbon footprint on it's way to us? Then we are nothing but guilty consumers.
As Christians we all gather around the same table - and gratitude is what should define our fellowship. But we should not be content with a little bit of quiet gratitude. We should aim to produce so much that we have to box, can, and ship it around the globe.