Feasting, Cherry Pickers and Connection

Robert V. Taylor

Who we are, is reflected in how we feast and approach food.   It mirrors our spirit and how we engage with life.  The sights and sounds of cherry pickers harvesting this year’s crop have expanded my awareness about this.  The cherry pickers have invited me to new delight about the oneness that a spirituality of feasting invites.

The cherry orchards of Eastern Washington are a lively ecosystem during harvest.  Workers on ladders reach in to the trees to fill their buckets with the prized fruit.  Portable toilets are moved to follow the pickers.  Roads are commandeered by refrigeration trucks hauling fresh fruit to warehouses and markets.   Mobile taco stands roam the orchards selling enchiladas and burritos to workers on break.  Local grocery stores and bodegas bustle with business from seasonal workers.

The sounds of the pickers at work are what captivate me this harvest.  I hear their chatter from ladder to ladder in surrounding orchards. Grueling work in often scorching heat does not dampen the animated talk rising above the sounds of music from a portable radio.  Laughter from the orchards punctuates the day. By two o’clock in the afternoon the nine hour day ends before the sun parches the workers, creating more nuanced conversations about which orchards will be picked at five the next morning.

The rhythm of the harvest reflects a micro-ecosystem about food.  The sounds of the cherry pickers have awakened a new awareness into this more expansive ecology.  At the Safeway, Whole Foods or farmers markets in Seattle my surveying of the produce is different. My urban experience of the produce aisle is seen through new lenses.

My spiritual practices about food have begun to shift perceptibly. In preparing any meal I practice giving thanks for the earth, for farmers, for those who’ve brought the food to market and for those who will eat together. It’s less perfunctory than a quick blessing of a meal. It invites mindfulness of being a grateful participant in a wide circle of food.  Harvest has given me new attentiveness.

Cherry harvest conversations among farmers and their team evolve as if in their own growing season. Unexpected summer rainfall created anxious talk about crop damage.  Would the crop be salvageable enough to warrant hiring workers to pick?  Would the crop be left on the trees to rot?  How much are warehouses paying per pound and how much are they discounting for cherries deemed unfit to grace a produce aisle.  All this has given way to grateful, satisfied conversations about a good crop making its way to people’s homes.

A spirituality of feasting always includes expectancy about the conversations that will emerge. In preparing a feast for those beyond our household I think about each guest as I chop, sauté and prepare.  I adore this practice which creates a heart open to the surprise of feasting and talking together.  Cherry harvest has opened a new window into this practice. 

The conversation and worries of the farmers, the image of pickers on ladders with their buckets, the aroma from the taco trucks, the music and conversation from the orchards, the laughter punctuating the air gives me new awareness.  The spirituality of food and feasting is suddenly richer.

The laughter, surprises, conversation and connection around my table remains a gift.  But now it is joined to the rhythm of life of those in orchards and fields producing the many ingredients that contribute to the food.  The liveliness around my table becomes joined to that of people who will remain unknown.  The aisles of the supermarket and even the stands at the farmers market are no longer solely about the item sought.  The produce reminds me of an ecology of connection of which I am a part.  I have an expanded awareness of inter-dependence, of oneness with a circle of people and the earth itself.

The way we approach food and feasting reveals much about our spirit. It reveals even more about mindful gratitude for the oneness of our inter-connection. Food and feasting reveal even more delight and generosity than I had ever imagined.

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  1. In Tehran; when there is left over it never goes to the garbage – you give it out to the street sweepers who are very poor. It’s the only meal they get. In Tehran you are reminded daily of how lucky you are for the life you live. Those of us fortunate enough to eat whatever we want, whenever we want forget that there are many in this world who don’t share the same luxury. I give thanks for every grain grown on earth from the miracle of its growth to the work of the farmer, to the process it goes through to reach my table, I give thanks for the consciousness of knowing how lucky one is when you can appreciate the beauty and the colors of your food and the fusion of sauces and its culinary art instead of its necessity. May you always be blessed in life.

  2. I could not agree more. I loved living in Berlin for three years, and visiting relatives in Holland, because food for Europeans is to my recall, an art. I loved the later dinner hour, the adamented conversations, the care in which food was prepared, and the generosity in sharing meals together. I also feel this is a sacred time, and really feel sad whne my children and their families rush through meals, or eat separately, etc. because lives have become so hectic. So thanks for a lovely writing on an almost lost art in the USA in general.

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