“Eating is not only a physical process; it is also a spiritual process. Your food could not enter your mouth, did it not first enter your mind.”
These words blossomed out of a page from Prof. Martin Versfeld’s The Philosopher’s Cookbook as I sat in a Bristol coffee shop while traveling last November. Bristol, I should say, is an English port town brimming with urban gardens and community allotments, a place where a PICAn could get very cozy indeed. I read the words again and felt such a sense of delight that my cheeks warmed and my stomach fluttered. Versfeld’s sentiments weren’t new to me. As a PICAn, I had taken part in enough community meals, workdays, harvests and seminars to know in my bones how profoundly food can transform us: mind, body and soul. What really struck me, as I sat thousands of miles from Foundational Roots and many moons past my graduation, was how urgent that transformation still felt to me. So PICA – the place, the people and of course the food – had entered my mind and given me a point of origin from which positive change was not only possible but tangible. I swear, I could taste it.
This all may sound a little highfalutin’ given the fact that my favorite moments with PICAns amounted to little more than sitting around a table, chewing on some garden grub and shooting the breeze. There was dirt under our fingernails. A dirty dish or two might have missed the sink. I even remember the occasional remark from fellow campus activists that PICAns might do well to look outside their gardens and consider how they could contribute to sustainability and social justice more broadly. It was a fair enough point, I thought at the time, but where did the drive to make social and environmental change come from if not from a sense of convivium, of connection to the land, organisms and experiences that allow us all to flourish? We saw a reason to act with every crop of collard greens, every Saturday spent turning compost and every meal shared among friends. We undertook these tasks, however small and ordinary, in order to live better in the world, and so we found joy. This is the seed of transformative action. This is the spiritual process Versfeld was talking about, the one I’d been so lucky to take part in.
And yes, we PICAns are lucky. We get to draw on the community we create and find the inspiration to make change. We are uniquely equipped to view the world as a living, integrated system, to advocate for its protection and to do so with warmth and camaraderie. Even after we leave the garden, we get to cultivate and savor that spirit as if it were a good meal with good friends. In fact, it’s because of PICA that each of life’s meals presents an opportunity for change, and for that I will always be grateful.
Kate Schaffner is an environmental educator in San Jose. She recently completed an AmeriCorps term, which she spent managing a public orchard that produces fruit and nuts exclusively for food banks and a children’s education program. She then traveled through England, Ireland and France, visiting friends, farmers and food artisans alike.