This article has been published in the Spring 2019 issue of Roqueta, Menorca’s English-language magazine.
What do we buy when, for example, we purchase carrots in a shop? We buy more than just the obvious vegetable. We also buy expertise and experience. Someone has to have the ability to know when and how to plant seed, when and how to harvest the vegetable or fruit. Someone has to know how to convey the produce to a place where consumers can obtain it. Someone has to know how to compensate the ‘someones’ whose experience and expertise contribute to the success of the whole process. Such knowledge doesn’t come by chance, nor can one plant, reap, supply and feed an ever-growing population purely by intuition.
Once upon a time, possibly for nearly a thousand years until the industrial revolution, or in some places the early part of the twentieth century, agriculture was a largely local enterprise. That is no longer the case. Nowadays, few of us grow our own carrots (as an example), and so we rely upon the knowledge and expertise of previous generations of farmers, scientists, meteorologists, businesspeople and economists to manage the way in which we are fed.
All of this might be classified as part of the human responsibility to exercise good stewardship of the earth in which we live. And this is no longer something that can be tied down to how we manage our own plot of land (if we even have such a thing!). We live in a world in which we depend upon collective enterprise in order to be fed and watered (amongst many other things), and in which the actions that we take directly or indirectly have an impact upon those around us and those further afield. And it is all too easy to take for granted the processes that nurture us, and to be rather glib about the responsibilities that we have for the way in which our lives touch upon our neighbours – near and far. Maybe there was a time when a carrot was just a carrot, but in today’s world a carrot is the product of an industrial agricultural process – unless, I suppose, we grow our own (but even then, where do the seeds come from, and how do we fertilise them)?
This is all part of reawakening our sense of common good, wherein the way we live makes us interdependent upon one another. The rise of individualism has deadened our alertness to communal living. When people lived in largely agricultural village communities, this sense of interdependence was harder to ignore, because neighbours were generally rather close by. Today things are different, yet it is perilous, particularly for those generations who come after us, for us to be isolated from an affinity with the world in which we live, and the fellow creatures (including humans) who share it with us.
Interestingly, religion has persistently been preoccupied with the mutual interdependence of humans, and the way in which people live in harmony (or not) together. It’s not just about worshipping God! Most religions have some sort of code of behaviour that is intended to guide or govern the interactions between people. In Judaeo-Christian circles this finds the core of its expression in such instruments as the ten commandments, or the simpler version espoused by Jesus: “Love God, and love your neighbour as yourself.” But this summarises of large tracts of instruction and prophetic writing, of which a very significant part deals with the care of those around us, especially the needy. One does not have to be very religious to see in this a template for managing the way in which humans interact.
Religion also addresses the way in which humanity engages with the natural world. The creation stories reflect a multi-millennia-old understanding of a created order that is a gift and a responsibility. In the book of Genesis, for example, the first human, adam (which means ‘earth creature’) is given the opportunity to name the animals of the field and the birds of the air. But while naming was a gift, it carries an obligation: in Jewish tradition, to name something means to take ownership for it – not too far removed from the way in which we take responsibility for our children when we name them.
Religious practice also engages with the created order by treating as sacred the turning of the seasons and offering ritual to mark their passing. For countless generations, this sanctified the involvement of humanity in the earth’s seasons. Even now, one thing upon which the experience and expertise that goes into feeding a hungry world relies is understanding and interpreting the cycle of the seasons.
And so the season of spring is upon us – seemingly, in Menorca, spring has been with us since the middle of winter! I’ve written before about the rather topsy-turvy experience of seasons in Menorca, but even when the cycle of planting and reaping is different from other places, it is still a cycle, and personally I find that Menorca is a place that gives us an opportunity to be in close proximity. Perhaps we can learn, to quote the words of one of the prayers used in daily worship, to “walk gently on the earth,” and not ride roughshod over it and damage or destroy the source of life.
One seasonal variation that arrives with late winter and early spring in Menorca is the residue of the winter storms and tramuntanas on the coves and beaches. A sad witness to the casual lack of concern for the environment in which we live, never mind a sense of responsibility for it, is the vast amount of waste, most of it plastic, to be found, washed up by the wind and waves. Fortunately, there are those who take their responsibility seriously, and groups of volunteers have been removing this waste from Menorca’s beaches during February and March. There is hope.
Remember the poor carrot. It doesn’t arrive in our homes by itself. It needs a lot of help! Let it be a sort of talisman to remind us, first, not to overlook, or miss, what is “behind the scenes,” as it were, in our lives, to nurture us; and secondly not to take for granted what feeds us – whether it be physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually.