Thom Turner is a friend and regular contributor to The Englewood Review of Books. Thom is also an adjunct lecturer of English at Nyack College and the Senior Editor and Publisher of GENERATE Magazine. He has recently been doing a wonderful series on his blog on a Christian ethic of eating, which has some important connections to our Slow Church project. I invited him to guest post here, and he offered the following reflection.
Last night as I was ladling the oozing remnants of twenty five pounds of apples into just sterilized quart jars I got to thinking: why do I have to do this? Why is there apple sauce?
Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy doing it. I love canning. Sometimes a bit too much. I’ll come home from work and announce that I’ve stopped at the grocery store—I bought pears!—and now we are going to pickle them!
It’s not that I don’t enjoy it. It was more existential. I wondered why I had to can anything.
Death. The answer is death.
Apples will rot. Vegetables will spoil. Greens will wilt. Herbs will dry and stiffen. Tomatoes will burst into a rancid, stinking mess. Meat will become diseased and fly infested.
So we can, cook, pickle, and preserve to cheat death.
Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat food from it
all the days of your life.
It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
and you will eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
and to dust you will return. (Genesis 3)
To dust. The rotting, the festering, the molds, the spoiling—its all a precursor, a premonition of death. So we try to stop it the best we can, by cooking and boiling and submerging. And then the cans come back out with new, transformed foods. They are safe and preserved.
Safe and preserved. In other words, alive.
So I may have slighted canning a bit. It’s not as much cheating death as…a baptism, a resurrection. The food coming up out of the water, safe to eat, immune to spoil, to rotting, to death.
The next time you open a jar of pickles or a can of beans say softly to yourself, O Death, where is your victory?