Sunday, September 13, 2009


Thesis statements rarely come to me while I'm sedentary. I'll admit that, in a near complete reversal of the correct order, I usually write my papers and then figure out what I've argued and stick in a thesis sentence just before I hit "print", but the few times I have done it the right way, the sentence that ties the whole thing together has come not while seated in front of a computer or with pen and paper in hand, but while I was on a run or walking to class or at some other inopportune moment.

So, naturally, one of the basic ideas that unifies the last year of my life came while I was pedaling around Phnom Penh one day in August. I remember repeating it over and over under my breath so I wouldn't lose it as I sweated my way to my favorite cafe:

Know where your stuff comes from, and know where it goes when you're done with it.

Things were starting to make sense to me last August. I wrote:
Most Westerners do not perceive affluence as a problem because we have successfully mentally dissociated it from the oppression and injustice it causes and perpetuates. What we need first is to start to see these relationships. Living in my neighborhood on HNGR has been an exercise in that regard. Many of the linkages and relationships that are obscured by distance in the West are in plain view in my community. The woman who sews the underwear I buy in the US lives in my house. My trash goes in a bag that is tied up and thrown across the street into the pond in the middle of the community, and as the flood season progresses, we’ll all be walking in that water. I think really knowing where we are ought to be a fundamental Christian discipline – knowing where our tomatoes come from and where what put in the trash can ends up, knowing the local growing seasons and where our shower water goes. What we learn, and perhaps more significantly what our affluent insulation makes it impossible for us to find out, should raise questions about our lifestyles.

Distilled: Know where your stuff comes from, and know where it goes when you're done with it.

I was reminded of that little mantra this morning while in a Sunday school of sorts - a multi-generational congregational discussion of "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" over a feast of local origins. An older farmer from the area talked about how the book had inspired him to start asking where his food came from - approaching managers in butcheries or grocery stores to inquire about the origins of their products, getting answers like "Peru", "somewhere in the U.S." and most commonly: "I don't know".

There have been a lot of moments in the past month that have captured what we're doing here. One of them was a recent farm staff meeting over brunch, where we went around the table describing where the food we were eating came from - friends' gardens, farmers markets, our own land...

There was also a lot of Trader Joe's in there. We've made no Barbara Kingsolver-style goal of perfection, but its a start.

Know where your stuff comes from, and know where it goes when you're done with it.

1 comment:

  1. Great post, friend. I like the thesis and will apply it liberally.