Marianne is one of the most interesting people I have ever met, and I’m excited to have her do a guest post! She graduated from my alma mater some years before I came through, and is still a legend in the English department, especially because of her play interpretation of Till We Have Faces (which I saw performed–it’s incredible). I first met her at a church function. She was this snappily smart woman, knitting something intricate at lightning speed, and making everyone laugh. I was in awe. 

According to herself: Marianne teaches theatre in Pittsburgh and cooks a lot of stew in Grove City. She has a lot of ideas about food, but only shares them when asked. Her latest obsessions in food and fashion can be found at her blog, The Eternal Student.

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When did I become crazy? Once, I was an ordinary, sale-shopping, pasta-loving, fast-food eating girl in her early twenties. Now, my family thinks I’m a crazy hippy, pioneer-days-recreator, food nazi.

Brief background: I was born with a condition called Holt Oram that affects the arms and hands and heart. Thankfully, my heart is quite healthy. But my left arm has always been severely shorter than the right, I was born without a left thumb or radius, and my wrist was severely clubbed. Orthopedic surgeries as a child corrected some of the problems. At the age of eighteen, I first heard of an amazing new procedure to lengthen bones that had been just imported from Russia. I had prayed fervently my whole life that God would make my arm grow, and finally, at twenty-five, I had my left arm lengthened—a painful process of incremental bone stretching. I gained over two inches in three months. I drank gallons and gallons of milk, despite my lactose intolerance (the agony!), and took calcium supplements at alarming doses. Despite that, after two years, my bone remained stubbornly broken. The doctor shrugged. I was a “slow bone grower.”

I lived in France with that broken arm. I even got married with it broken! Four months into my newlywed life, I had one last surgery to fix my arm—the bone was sanded down, forcibly rejoined, and held together with a plate and screws. From that day onward, I researched everything I could on bone health. Somehow, I stumbled onto the hope of raw milk. For the first time I heard of a dentist named Weston A. Price and read his book for free online.  During these years, I heard about Wendell Berry, and I devoured all of his collections of essays in a week. I became a devotee of the French Women Don’t Get Fat philosophy of food and pleasure. Michael Pollan’s recommendations in In Defense of Food, and the food detective word in The Omnivore’s Dilemma were captivating.

I heard about and read all of the books by an outspoken farmer in Virginia named Joel Salatin.  I took cod liver oil, drank a quart of raw milk a day, and ate plenty of butter.  And in six weeks my bone was healed. I also gained fifteen pounds in about six months, but I felt so strong and healthy for the first time in years.

What I discovered in the course of my years of reading and my experience with my own health has changed the way I view food. I no longer look on food as I did in my teens as a necessary evil—a source of needed fuel but something to be controlled obsessively to avoid weight gain. In my twenties, I learned to cook, mastering various national cuisines—food as hobby. I can cook Thai, Italian, Mexican,  French, and Indian—take your pick! In France, I liked nothing better than to buy a crusty half-baguette, and 100 grams of liver pâté at the market and eat the two together as I wiled away the day reading novels. Now, I make my own chicken liver pâté, my own sourdough baguettes, and a whole slew of bizarre fermented beverages to replace my beloved diet Pepsi. I’m no longer a serial dieter, nor am I a hobbyist. I’m a busy professional woman who has spent three years slowly building the skill set to practically live out what I’ve learned about food, nutrition, and agricultural economics without falling into debt to do it.

Changing patterns of food acquisition and consumption takes a lot of time, research, study, and money. But I encourage you to start looking into our American food culture and economy and to question the unexamined assumptions with which we have all grown up. Though apple pie is American, rejecting Little Debbie will not make you unpatriotic. As I sketched out, my awareness that food is embedded in social, historical, and economic structures grew as a result of both my reading and my time living in France. France is a nation that takes the connection between what we eat and the land on which it is grown (the terroir) very seriously. They protect local, artisanal food production. They have banned genetically modified organisms. They promote the manners of the table, the traditions of food preparation, and the life rhythms necessary to eat leisurely and healthfully (two-hour lunches, can you imagine?).  We used to have those traditions here, in the United States. We could have that again.

If you are interested in these issues, do check out the authors and websites that I have linked. If you want to get started reforming your pantry and your plate, here are my tips:

1. Start small. Pick one thing to change. I began with milk. I found a local farmer through the Campaign for Real Milk website and I started there. You might want to give up soda pop. Or replace your frozen pizza habit by making a pot of stew once in a while and freezing that in convenient portions for when you don’t have time to cook.

2. Work within your budget to make priorities. There is a reason why Whole Foods is called Whole Paycheck—it’s expensive! Our family prioritizes in the following way:

  • We buy local, humanely raised meats first. We believe that our animal-product consumption should not depend on the mistreatment of animals. Joel Salatin raves about how his farming practices allow pigs to be pigs, not meat-production machines so overwhelmed by stress that they bite off each other’s tails. We’ve seen our pig running happily in “hog Heaven” on a Beaver Farm, and I petted the nose of the cow that has given us over thirty pounds of delicious roasts and steaks. Doing this, we average about $4/pound. We recently splurged on grass-fed lamb for $7/pound.  Our milk is $5.50 a gallon, which includes the cost of delivery.  Local eggs are between $3 and $4 a dozen, but even at that price, eggs are still one of the cheapest sources of protein and necessary vitamins like vitamin A.
  • Next, we purchase our produce locally whenever possible by frequenting the farmer’s market, growing a garden, and joining a winter co-op. Local, small farms use fewer pesticides overall. The produce is also much fresher. We can also buy honey, jams, pickles, breads, soaps, and meat through this co-op.
  • If we can afford it month-to-month, we buy needed items from the “dirty dozen” list at Whole Foods or Trader Joes.
  • We round out the pantry thanks to Aldi’s amazingly low prices: beans and rice, canned tomatoes, rice cakes, peanut butter, frozen shrimp and wild-caught salmon, chocolate, nuts, and other treats.
  • I cook almost everything from scratch but we do buy convenience foods for the few nights a month when we just can’t bring ourselves to cook: bottled spaghetti sauce and pasta, frozen Aldi French fries to go with pan-fried hamburgers, boxed vegetable soups and quesadillas or grilled cheese. We try to eat one or two meatless, bean-based dinners a week. Our philosophy toward food is best personified by the cookbook and manifesto, Nourishing Traditions.

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What do you think? How would you like start to eat locally/ethically? I’m not sure where I will start, beyond shopping at the farmer’s market and being more aware of my choices. But I’d like to do more along these lines soon. 


“Like industrial sex, industrial eating has become a degraded, poor, and paltry thing. Our kitchens and other eating places more and more resemble filling stations, as our homes more and more resemble motels.” – Wendell Berry, “The Pleasures of Eating”

One afternoon during college,  a professor was lecturing on the idea that college is a sort of like slash and burn farming–we are raised in communities and they nurture us, and then we leave them (with all of the gifts and wisdom they have invested in us) and we go to college. There we feed off the riches of the professors and the learning community there until we suck them dry and walk off with our degrees. And some of us go home and reinvest in our original communities, and return to them what they gave us. But most of us follow the jobs and go wherever we can find work or the career options we like best, and leave behind two communities we have benefited from, but have not given returns on their investments.

And he then asked us what we were doing, there in that town at that little college, to invest in the community while we were there. We mostly looked at our notebooks and vigorously pretended to be taking down every word, not wanting to get called on. So he changed the question: “do you know where your water comes from?” And when we again looked stupid, he proceeded onto his conclusion, visibly irritated with our lack of interest in the place we had chosen to live for those four years.

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When we moved from California to Virginia, I was just about to enter high school. I suppose it was unusual that my first (and initially, biggest) culture shock was the realization that I didn’t know the crops or the flora and fauna of our new region. The county where I had grown up was highly agricultural and I knew the seasons and the implications of a weather pattern on the crops around us. I knew to recognize artichoke fields, and to pray for rain for the broccoli farmers, and I could tell you all about the process of harvesting cotton or walnuts or oranges. My favorite smell was in early April, when the air became alive with the scent of orange blossoms. I visited the local water reservoir with my homeschool co-op and we toured the dam and learned where the water came from and where it was treated and how it got to us. I could recognize birds by their calls and tell you where to look for them, and I recognized the different types of pine trees in the nearby mountains by their different needles and cones.

But when we moved to Virginia, I felt bewildered. I couldn’t recognize or name anything, there were very few farms near us, and I didn’t know anything about what foods grew well in the area or when they were in season.

Over time, as I learned to cook more and helped with the shopping for the family, I began to get a feel of the seasonal rhythm of the Virginian produce (ever lamenting the fact that those things requiring a Mediterranean climate would never be quite as good on the East coast–I haven’t had a good artichoke in years). And I slowly learned to appreciate it–the peanut soup and boiled peanuts, the eastern shore crab harvest, the fall apples, the local wines, the sweet corn, the venison, etc. I have acclimated, and I am able to navigate eating locally with some degree of skill now.

Obviously, this is important to me because that’s one thing I love about my dad (his awareness of the geographic attributes and produce the region where he lives). But it’s important for Christians in a larger way, too. If eating isn’t just something we do for fuel, and if Jesus affirmed the physical world with his incarnation, and if we are made to be stewards of the earth, we have an obligation to shop for our food in a way that reflects these things.

I feel frustrated sometimes, with other conservative Christians who assume that issues of environmental concern are just “evolutionist” or not worth their time. For them, loving Jesus is enough for life. And…strictly speaking, they’re not wrong. But to use “loving Jesus” as a carte blanche to ignore ethical living on the earth is indulging in a sort of Gnosticism that allows disinterest in where one lives and how one lives in that place, which runs against the concept of human stewardship of the earth and the embodied Christianity that Jesus established in his incarnation.

There are  a lot of causes related to this idea of stewarding the earth well, and many of them are silly or reactionary. It’s hard to know how, in this industrial age of suburbia and mass production, to live well in the place one lives. To do so entirely holistically would be overwhelming–so much of our society is built around ignoring place and refusing to let the unique nature of a geographic locale influence how we live. Everything must be standardized, democratized, universal. We transplant ourselves to new place, following jobs, and don’t think much about being affected by where we live (except to grumble about various inconveniences). And it’s hard to actually go off the grid without cutting oneself off from relationships with everyone else on the grid, which would be ideologically contrary to the concept of Christian community and fellowship.

I live in a place and I am part of a physical community, whether I like it or not. Wendell Berry calls the idea of belonging to a community “membership.” But membership doesn’t (according to Berry) come by just living in a community. It requires active participation in it to the point that you identify with the community and the community in return chooses to identify itself with you. This requires more than just living in a place, commuting to your office, and then coming home and getting groceries at the supermarket, taking out your trash, and checking your mail. It means interacting with your neighbors, it means making the land better than how it was when you came to it, and the people richer culturally. Suburban “bedroom communities” are the antithesis of this idea of real community and membership therein. And I would argue that it is the thinking Christian’s obligation to choose wisely how to become invested in the membership of his or her physical community.

So how to do this? Determining how you choose to live well in your physical place will be a rather individual decision. But some basic steps to get started might include: learning about your town or county, perhaps by attending a meeting of the local planning commission, to understand the ways land is being used where you live, and why; or perhaps you might do research to learn about the food co-ops available in your area, where you can purchase produce seasonally from local farmers. You might see if you can find a local butcher, and purchase humanely raised meat. Or you could start a small garden in your backyard or on your windowsill, and make compost from your refuse.

All these things take time and deliberate effort, so it’s worth being thoroughly careful to make sure that you do these things out real conviction, rather than jumping on a fad because you feel guilty.

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  [Following up next week, we’ll have a guest post by the delightful Marianne, with a sort of Eating Locally 101 for those   who interested in the practical elements of this.]


I love to eat what I eat. My pleasure at the stove and table are sincere and coherent.
– “Learning How to Eat Like Julia Child” by Tamar Adler, New Yorker

Julia Child’s 100th birthday was yesterday, and this essay on learning to eat and love food is good.  I think about this a lot–what food means to us, what it should mean to us, how we use it, how we taste it, how we feel about it, what it means to relate to food as a human.

It’s frustrating to me to see people using food, instead of relating to it. “Eating is a chore,” says a friend, and it’s not the first time I’ve heard someone say those words. This utilitarian, eat-because-I-have-to relationship with food is unhealthy at best, and is perhaps a reflection of more serious issues: displacement, non-identification with one’s physical self (someone help me find the right word for this?), and a lack of ability to savor life outside of the manufactured world of technology, efficiency, and production.

I would argue, even, that it is anti-Christian to have a merely utilitarian relationship to one’s food. I’ll write on this at greater length later, but if God incarnate as the man Jesus made such a point of instituting the sacrament of communion and said that the bread was his body and the wine his blood, food can never again be just something we put in our bodies (“fuel” says that horrible industrialist metaphor) to provide energy for our day. God has eaten with us and made the very act of eating together something that he not only identified with, but made a vital part of how we relate to him and each other.

Some topics I hope to work through on this topic include:

  • Physicality and eating
  • Incarnation and eating
  • Communion and eating
  • Creating and food
  • Tasting
  • Satisfaction/being made full
  • Place and food

Now, I don’t know if I’ll post separately on each of these, combine them together, or expand the list further, but this is something I’m passionate about and if I put the list up here, I’ll be more personally motivated to follow through with all of these topics.

Part of my interest in food is driven by my family’s culture–we have always gathered as a family for dinner, and my parents have always involved us in the preparation of meals and taught us to enjoy a wide variety of foods. We’ve had a garden for years, we’ve experimented with trying to make authentic dishes from other cultures, and we’ve always tried new things together. Various family members have had food allergies or intolerances, and so we’ve had to get creative to accommodate each other’s needs.

Our holiday traditions, as a whole, center around foods more than anything else, I think. My twin brothers were born in early May, and we’d go strawberry picking together and have fresh strawberry shortcake at the peak of strawberry season. Christmas eve was always a seafood dinner with artichokes. Christmas lunch would be tamales and pico de gallo, and dinner would be a full feast with ham. Thanksgiving saw us putting out the very Northern dishes of rutabaga and creamed spinach with nutmeg, as well as the Southern roasted sweet potatoes to accommodate the family traditions of both my mother’s family and my father’s. Our loyalty to our hometown in California dictates the type of oranges, lemons, olives, and steak salt rub we use. My grandma’s favorite spice cake recipe is the family standby for birthday cake.

My dad teaches us all how to use knives efficiently, how to read a recipe and be precise. My mom teaches us the chemistry of baking ingredients and what one can substitute for something in a pinch. My dad interacts with flavors like a painter with colors, mixing and adjusting until he hits on the right combination, and teaches us confidence to create variations on favorite recipes.

Food is a curiosity and a communal art for us, and so it’s been a bit amazing to me to leave home and discover that this is pretty unusual (in middle class America) today. Most people don’t know where their food comes from, don’t know how cook beyond following the directions of a recipe, and don’t have much of a personal relationship to food beyond silencing hunger and supplying energy. There’s no holistic ethos for why we eat and where and how.

I’m not a fan of ignoring physicality. So let’s talk about this: why do you eat?