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Ash and Oil: March 2

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted…” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-2)

There is a coastal village just north of Mombasa in Kenya. For generations, the mangrove forests there have created a habitat for fish that has provided food and income for the people of the village. Today that way of life is threatened, as mangroves have become an important source of another commodity in Kenya: fuel.

In that village, food and fuel are intimately connected – it’s a choice between the two. The destruction of the mangrove forests in the name of fuel is impossible to deny. So a group of young folks is doing something about it: they’re restoring a section of the mangroves, educating villagers about the dangers of destroying too much of the forest, and relearning the skill of farming fish and prawns among those precious trees. For these young villagers, the time for fuel’s importance to take precedence has past, and the time for food’s importance to dictate resource use has come.

In my own “village,” food and fuel are also intimately linked – most of what I eat is impossible to come by without fuel. Last night, I picked up an avocado to supplement the fajita dinner my husband was preparing. We don’t grow avocados where I live in Michigan. In fact, it’s not asparagus season here, or tomato season, or the right time of year to be ripening red peppers. But they all made their way to my fridge yesterday, without much of a second thought.

Because fuel is easy to come by in North America, I’ve grown accustomed to eating what I want, when I want it. And I depend on semi-trucks carting strawberries from Latin America to keep it that way. Like those Kenyan villagers, I might do well to start to reconsider the relationship between food and fuel in my culture.

The book of Ecclesiastes reminds us that our lives are marked by seasons: seasons to have things, seasons to go without. Lent, for many, is a time to practice being “without.” For North American Christians today, this self-imposed “season” may help to remind us of the ways we’ve blended seasons together for our convenience, and the rhythms of trust and appreciation we’ve forgotten because of it.

Take the next step: As you prepare your food, consider how many resources, cultures, people, and expenditures it took for the meal you’re eating to come together. Consider making a Lenten sacrifice of one imported and out-of-season item – tomatoes or strawberries, for example – as a reminder of the sacrifice that must take place for your consumption of season-less produce.

[Image: Flickr user Shawn Nystrand]

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