A recipe for vulnerability

We are in the final stretch of the year and when people ask how it’s going right now, my response is that these last three months may be the hardest yet, and on some levels I’m totally over it. It’s harvest season and, yes, food is abundantly available and we’ve gotten really good at sustaining ourselves. But, the life of a locavore isn’t simply about the season or the food supply.

Most of the things we do are relatively easy, such as these examples from the past week:

  • Overcoming my fear of canning and turning 30 pounds of tomatoes into sauce
  • Devising a fruit fly catcher to deal with the population boom due to the above
  • Making pickles & yogurt before the cucumbers and milk go bad
  • Figuring out how to extract salt from seawater
  • Finding the first wild mushrooms of the season
  • Even dealing with the “too many mothers” in our virtual kitchen who constantly assume that I am doing everything wrong and destined to get botulism.

Next week I’ll be harvesting bay nuts and corn and making corn tortillas from scratch with our friends at Mendocino Organics. As I’ve said many times before, no single undertaking is inherently difficult. Whatever we are making/doing usually just requires time, some basic equipment, and enough will to triumph over the lazies. I love making, foraging and problem-solving and this is all really fun (aside from the stress and fatigue) and I feel like a domestic ninja when things work out. Every single meal is an accomplishment, and the joy of working so hard for your survival is unparalleled.

The not-so-easy things:

The difficult part is integrating all of this into the rest of life and work, at a pace that is not built for living from scratch. Traveling for work last week I survived on nuts, cheese and apples for a few days when I didn’t have time to cook nor access to a kitchen. But it’s all doable, and with a little more planning and prep, I could have been well-fueled. Why wasn’t I? This gets to the core of it – I don’t want to. Not every day, not all the time. Not all by myself. And, I miss green tea and chocolate and tequila.

While living closer to the land and food has been tremendously grounding and empowering, it has also been isolating and lonely. When I signed up for this, I didn’t want to eat 3 meals a day by myself for 365 days. Community has been built through the project, but it has also been disruptive and alienating to have such an extreme diet that means I can’t eat at restaurants, meet people at a cafe for a hot beverage, or eat the food at a wedding or a birthday or go on a normal date. Sometimes I make dinner with/for other people, or bring my own food to group meals, but the food often feels like a barrier between me and the situation. It becomes the focus of conversation when sometimes I want to enjoy the warmth of other human bodies and connect about things beyond sustenance. I know, it’s also totally amazing to be so connected to food, and be talking about real food with people every day. That’s the point of this. On a more basic level, I am sick of cooking all the time, and I don’t always want to plan ahead or take so much responsibility for every darn thing I put in my mouth. Plus, I have been largely stranded in Mendocino for six months without a car, which makes connection and community exponentially more difficult in a rural area.

All said, limits are extremely revealing and the Eat Mendocino project (along with the near-death experience this year) has allowed me to take a big, deep look at my existence. And I think that all the “hard things” really come down to one hard thing, which is the hardest of all: being vulnerable. This year, more than ever before, has made me realize how much we need each other – as neighbors, friends, and links in the food chain. Communities were created around the food supply, and now, food exemplifies the disconnectedness of human society. We don’t need each other to survive. We don’t need to know where anything comes from, or where it ends up. We don’t need to plan ahead, we don’t need to get along. We can just go to the store and buy food from strangers. It’s convenient, and it’s cheap-ish, and it’s simple. But, the costs of our fossil-fueled culture of ease are enormous.

I watched this video today by one of my favorite speakers, Brené Brown, who has dedicated the last ten years to studying vulnerability. I want you to watch this video, all of you (and her other videos, they are fantastic). But, if you don’t here’s what she has to say about the ills of a society dominated by an avoidance of vulnerability:

“We numb vulnerability. Evidence of the numbing: We are the most addicted, we are the most medicated, obese and in-debt adult cohort in human history; we’re numbing. And this doesn’t even include busy-ness […] Because we just stay so busy that the truth of our lives can’t catch up.” – Brené Brown

I think she’s so right.

People often ask me, “What are your goals are with the project?” There is a compelling list of social, ecological, political and spiritual reasons behind our mammoth undertaking. But now, I simply say this:

My goal is for people to become more intimate with their food.

To me, it’s all about intimacy. Whatever this means, for whoever you are, wherever you are. It doesn’t have to mean eating local. It’s about slowing down and getting one giant step closer to your food, whether that means making dinner with your kids, cooking something from scratch for the first time, or buying too many strawberries or peaches and throwing some into the freezer to forget about them and rediscover them in a few months. It means doing something that you are afraid to do and not worrying about whether it works out, reading the labels and asking questions about the ingredients, or picking an apple from a tree. This is one thing we can do to un-numb ourselves.

To me, this greater intimacy is the direct path to awareness which ultimately leads to being more vulnerable in life, and with each other. On this path, how can we deal with our vulnerability, and lean into it (even when we’re tired, frustrated, or scared)? This is what Brené Brown advises:

1) Practice Gratitude

I have mad gratitude for every seed and hand that has fed me this year, and I will try to remember to say thank you daily – especially when I want to whine. I have never been so grateful for the gestures of others; there is simply no higher act of love than feeding me. Thank you to Sisterwife Elizabeth for making me this yummy dinner last week at the end of my big work trip. I would so marry you.

Dinner made by Elizabeth

Elizabeth also shares some really good advice about How to remember the good in a recent blog post, which boils down to writing down the compliments that people give you. When I want to numb, I need to remember the incredible things that strangers have said to me about how we have inspired them to think differently about their food; there is truly no greater compliment.

2) Honor Ordinary

It’s true, we often overlook the ordinary, waiting for the next big thing. When we get closer to our food, and really stop to taste it, an apple becomes extraordinary. By turning off our monkeyminds to notice the ordinary beauty in the world (like this beautiful golden chanterelle we picked yesterday) we get closer to what is always right before us.

Golden chanterelle

3) Fill Your Reservoir with Joy and Love

There are countless ways to fill up with the good stuff. Take the time to do that. For me, tonight, it was writing this post, and knowing some eyes out there would read it. Love to all. – S

10 thoughts on “A recipe for vulnerability

  1. Dear Sarah and Gowan. I really love you. I love your writing, and I love your hearts, and i really, really love this project you have done. Inspiration? mmm hmmm. It’s beyond amazing you have dedicated yourselves to this exploration with such integrity and determination. I just put in the best fall garden of my whole life. I hardly had to buy any vegetables all summer long. Local is my backyard. We are so lucky to live here where there is such abundance and where so many people are looking out for each other, their babies and themselves with such a high consciousness. I am immensely grateful every day for this beautiful life. Thank you for leading the way to greater awareness and intimacy with our food. I hope you will write a book about this experience.
    Love, Zida

  2. Three cheers for Dr. Brown, and for local food, and for you. You have absolutely helped me think differently about where I spend my food dollars and what I put in my mouth. One of my primary callings in life is to feed people, and it’s an honor to feed you.

  3. You ladies are such an inspiration! The beginning of this post really struck a chord with me – about having a diet that’s restrictive and that can seem to get in the way of really connecting and enjoying food with people. I felt that way when I first went vegetarian, at age 21, living in Idaho on a college student budget. I even tried the vegan thing for a while and it was SO TIRING having to constantly explain my diet choices, bring my own food to potlucks and dinner parties, cook instead of going out because I had so few options, and learn to read the labels and scour for ingredients I couldn’t eat… But I slowly discovered that I was not alone, and I started seeking out like-minded folks, organizing vegan potlucks, getting involved in an animal rights group that got foie gras taken off the menu at a local restaurant and demonstrated at KFC to educate people about what they were eating. And as I learned more, I evolved into a pretty decent cook. When I moved here 5 years ago, I got involved with Noyo Food Forest and learned to grow food – once again food was the thing that drew me into a new community and led me to new friends and discoveries… Sometimes it’s only by setting limits on ourselves that we learn to branch out, get out of our comfort zones, and create community. 🙂

  4. dearest gowan and sarah, i thank you, for the project, for the courage, for the creativity, for the words, for the generosity of spirit and details, for the honesty. may we all nurture ourselves and each other with kindness and integrity, and local organic food as you are doing. i am so happy for you, and for myself because you share with me this feast of abundance , labor and love in action.

  5. Thanks much for sharing the advice on how to deal with vulnerability! Whenever I have thought about quitting farming, I think it was a partly a desire to escape feeling vulnerable. I also appreciate your goal in promoting intimacy with food; everything about healthy food and farming is based in meaningful relationships. Our farm is only sustained by intimate relationships. I still struggle with the growing local food movement paired with what seems like a disinterest in intimacy or relationships with food, farmers, and the land. Just this week, we experienced one of our CSA members actively trying to not engage with us at our vegetable distribution, and it was painful! Sending you love, and looking forward to having you at the farm this Saturday! (If anyone else is interested in our Maize Harvest Party October 12, just message me paula[at]mendocinoorganics[dot]com.)

    1. Binky, here is one of my favorite poems about vulnerability, by Dawna Markova:

      I will not die an unlived life
      I will not live in fear
      of falling or catching fire.
      I choose to inhabit my days,
      to allow my living to open me,
      to make me less afraid,
      more accessible,
      to loosen my heart
      until it becomes a wing,
      a torch, a promise.
      I choose to risk my significance;
      to live so that which came to me as seed
      goes to the next as blossom
      and that which came to me as blossom,
      goes on as fruit.

  6. It was the title of this blog that spurred my interest to dig in, having only weeks ago absorbed the message of Dr Brown’s TED talk. I thank you for your truth and integrity and applaud your radical vulnerability…. To be sure, we’ll be thusly rewarded.

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