I have been reading a great book, sort of a “people’s history of american housewives” called A Thousand Years Over a Hot Stove by Laura Schenone. I don’t know if she intended to be so radical but she lays out the struggles of women from pre-Columbian to the present American melting pot in hearth and home to forge an identity through food, and in some cases healing. We can draw many parallels between these two-food and medicine- throughout time-two different but interdependent ways of healing and nourishing that defined us culturally, spiritually and practically.
Much of our identity and culture as well as our power has been traded in the past century or so for consumer goods and conveniences, and at a great cost. Certainly it is understandable how after years of back-breaking labor and hunger women would wish to heat up some canned meat, throw on some pants and go dancing. Similarly, after multiple epidemics and fevers, I see why many women would be happy to hand the responsibilities of caring for the ill over to someone else. And they could not have foreseen a hundred years ago just how far this would go…but we lost a lot in that trade, and only now are we beginning to see the long-term results.
Certainy I am NOT speaking against the true achievements of modern medicine- hygiene, emergency care, diagnostics have absolutely saved and improved some lives, and I appreciate that. Modern food systems have kept more people fed…but it has been a surface feeding. A great longing exists, though it is often not defined or understood. And we can not nourish that longing with products that come in packages alone. Modern medicine often fixes things quickly and on the surface without providing a deeper cure. Modern foods are often convenient and assuage hunger but provide no deeper nourishment. Often, both cause as many problems as they solve. Iatrogenic prematurity, Type 2 diabetes, tooth decay, co-infections, environmentally-induced cancers and some asthma- sometimes fall under the ill-defined category of “side effects”. Generations of women’s wisdom are “collateral damage”, lost to modern people. The loss of farmland and forageland, medicinal herbs and unpolluted wilderness are just part of modern life. Connections are not made, and the loss of our connection to our sources of nourishment and healing is one of the great underlying causes of modern discontent.
We have allowed someone else to define our food and health as well as our pleasure, love, family, home, entertainment and education. In other words, our reality. We have eliminated many of our cultural and class differences in foods and health in lieu of a predicitability, sanitization, packaging and directions. Our dependency now defines us as a culture more than anything else and our desire to be free from all discomfort as soon as possible has kept us in high heels and neckties, in little climate-controlled boxes and attatched to reproducible results.
Yet the fringes still exist, they have not been and cannot be totally destroyed. Immigrants and the homeless exist outside of law-abiding middle class lifestyles. Healers and midwives, hustlers and shamans and drifters defy some of the laws and standards of modern America to bring what is secretly wanted or needed into communities, to provide healing or learning, or just to get by. Herbal healing is such a vast well of wisdom that there can be no experts or rules, just a grassroots network of interesting people who answer to noone but the plants themselves. Of course we have attempts to standardize and corporate-ize herbs and healing and some are better than others but the resistance comes in many shapes and sizes, and we are forging our own movement and knowledge base which noone will never own. As long as we define ourselves as consumers first, wildness will never be understood or respected as the basis of our salvation. The great illusion that life is fully knowable, definable and controllable will continue to lead us down the road to isolation and sadness. Our fears will be exploited by those who wish to gain money and power at the expense of nature, community and connections. But those who grow and prepare foods, forage the fringes, pass on and preserve knowledge, grow and make medicines and provide healing and comfort to those in need give us as a community a gift greater than we can imagine in this moment, which will only be fully understood by future generations.