The Spoken Word Project is a partnership of WhyHunger, GFJI and local food justice advocates to explore the impact of power, privilege and racism in the food system. Listen to stories and inspirations directly from grassroots leaders creating change.
Aaron Ableman on Food and Spirituality
Aaron Ableman is an “edutainer” with a diverse background in world literature, food & climate systems, and community organizing. Ableman has grown up under the mentorship of Hopi elders, the late David Brower, and children’s musician Raffi. He has graced the stages with Rev. Michael Beckwith, K’NAAN, and Joan Baez. From India to Haiti, he has implemented eco-arts programs and worked deeply with at-risk teens. Ableman is a servant for healthy ecosystems, artistic culture, and youth empowerment. His life and work have been heralded in publications such as the Montreal Mirror, LA Times/Weekly, New York Times, SF Examiner/Weekly, Bay Guardian, and Oakland Local. Ableman is the executive producer for the Clean Energy Tour, a co-founder of the Collective Liberation initiative, and a consultant for environmental organizations and campaigns. Currently, he is working on an “edutainment” social enterprise, which is based on his forthcoming Audiobook for children, entitled “Pachamamas Pajamas.”
1. What does it mean to you and your community to dismantle racism through the food system?
For me, it really means taking an honest appraisal and look at the collective narrative, the history, the collective stories that we’re carrying, facilitating inclusive dialogue and healing, very deep processing around healing, and looking at what our collective stories are in this nation. It’s my understanding that the food system is really the base line for the way that society works. We’re talking about a society that does still have racist infrastructure and systems that are unjust and not equal in terms of access and fair treatment. We really have to look at that with an honest mirror and that’s a process. That’s a very deep process that is going to take everybody. Each and every one of us has to look at that in our own hearts as well. Because the food system really once again really reflects the values of a society that those that make up that society. Here we are living in this very desperate world and there’s a whole trajectory, a whole story of karma that’s led to this moment. And in order to really dismantle it, we can’t just have token moments to make ourselves feel good. I know that myself, and my own story, growing up very close to the Compasino culture, growing up on a farm, so close to the stories of farm workers battling their lives just to cross the borders and harvest our food. The whole process to grow our food, for me, that was up close and personal. And I’ve had to in some ways look at my own privileges and my skin color, and all the opportunities that I’ve been given and how I can really step up to serve those that aren’t receiving the same opportunities. That’s part of my service in this life and part of my dedication is to really liberate and dismantle systems that are not serving the highest and best good for all of us. And that’s a huge issue. That’s not something I could necessarily answer in a sound bite. What I would say is that we need an all-hands-on-deck effort to really look at the stories that we’re carrying and how to honor each and everyone of those and really amplify the stories that aren’t being heard, and make sure that there’s an opportunity for implementing the kind of themes that emerge out of those stories. We can take the themes that come out of those stories and then implement change. I think that there are some really powerful examples of that right now across the nation. That’s my very humble opinion. I don’t feel like an authority on that, but I do feel like it’s a major issue that every single one of us has to really delve into.
2. What would the world look like without an imbalance of power and privilege?
I think it would look similar to a very healthy forest, an ecosystem that reflects harmony and homeostasis, a flow of support and symbiotic relationships. I see our world as being based on relationships and connections. We live in an interconnected fabric. We’re all interwoven. Every single one of us is having an impact on everything, all of the time. I think that what I would like to say about this in terms of distilling is that for me, the more that I study about how interconnected we all are and how interdependent our world is (and I think the food system is a great example of that, how much we depend on people of the other side of the world in the global food system just provide us with our snacks for lunch), there’s something there that for me is pointing to the common struggle that we all have and common source that we are all drawing on, which is really the planet Earth. The more that I follow that train of the thought, it actually points me to what Dr. Michael Bernard Beckwhith calls “unitivity,” which is different than relativity, but it’s basically saying that we are much more from the same source than we often recognize. I really believe that we are all one and in order to actually have compassion for another, we have to see that other person as ourselves. There are so many different ways of looking at that and finding that within yourself. I’m not going to pretend to proselytize, but for me, what’s been powerful in my process of dissolving a lot of those boundaries that are created that have actually caused a very hierarchical system of inequities and privilege vs. nonprivilege, poverty vs. wealth have been what I see as people not actually recognizing our commonality and our common struggle and ways that we are the same. I really think that we are from one source, we are made of one energy, we are one. I think that we don’t necessarily have to even believe that to see the way that shows up in so many different aspects of our lives. Dr. King talked about by the time we wake up in the morning, we’ve already depended on half the world. There’s a huge amount of evidence, both scientifically and in other ways, to point to the fact that we need others in our lives. Nobody can do it alone. And I think that’s part of the consciousness that I’m hoping to understand and really reveal in my own life to help me practice equality and practice the things that can get rid of privilege and injustice, things that really are destroying our relationships. So, I think, once again, this is an issue that really stems out of the stories that we tell ourselves and the consciousness that we’re carrying. I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all, but I do think there could be more of a balanced appreciation for how interconnected our world is, and that interdependence can really play a pivotal role in dissolving some of the issues that you raised.
Description: Broadly defined, spirituality is whatever makes you “whole,” what nourishes you and enables you to move through the world in a positive way. Spirituality is often ignored by the mainstream food movement, though it provides nourishment for communities and organizations.
1. How are farming, cooking, and eating spiritual acts for you? How do these three acts fit into your broader spirituality?
I always give thanks before a meal, before eating. I say my grace and prayers. I think that’s a great opportunity to honor the chain of hands and hearts and the chain of actions, the millions of things that have led to that act of eating. Being in that space of gratitude, in that space of prayer, in terms of understanding that, “Wow! this is such a miracle that food is on the table that has come through such a process to get here.” Even if I just harvest it directly from a garden or a farm, it’s really a miracle. I think that eating is a sacred act and we’ve very much forgotten that in the fast-food madness that we’re living in. We’re eating so much chemicals and junk and we’re eating it so quickly and I think that just stopping to take a moment to give thanks can really put you into that space of wonder and amazement and true appreciation for the miracle of life. I once heard it said that eating is the conduit between the inner and outer reality. Or the consumption of food, that we’re actually taking in the earth through our bodies. For me, that’s a very spiritual idea. It makes me so deeply appreciative for the life that I live and the giving-ness of the planet to continue to nourish our communities.
2. How does food heal the body, mind and spirit?
Well, I think I touched on it in that last response, but, the body-mind-spirit, definitely you are what you eat. If we really are actually nourishing ourselves and feeding ourselves in a positive way, with healthy foods that are grown with love and without chemicals, that aren’t destroying the planet, I think we would see greater evidence for a healthier society on a collective level. I know that that’s very personal for me as well. My body, I just can’t handle eating junk food. If I do, I go into almost like a depression: my digestion is not good, I have less energy, less capacity to actually do the things that I need to do and live an active and fulfilling life just with my physical being.
In terms of my mind, I think that if my body isn’t healthy, my mind isn’t health, so it’s interconnected. If my mind isn’t healthy, I’m not going to really be able to have good communications or get along with folks. There have been times when I’ve been really sick, on my death bed, as a result of a longer story in terms of some issues that I had in India. I remember how difficult it was to actually relate to the world from being very sick. I know that a lot of disease that is caused by what we eat. In fact, I know that why I got so sick in India is a result of what I was putting into my body. So it takes a little bit of extra consideration to eat right. For all of us, that means different things and we all have different access to the kind of foods that we can eat. But I think that if we eat well, we’re going to have a healthy body and mind and ultimately, our spirit can shine. Our soul, our spirit, whatever you want to call it, can be a reflection of who we are in the physical form and will reflect somehow in the spiritual form, with a more holistic integrated presence that can be that much more powerful in the world. I know that a lot of the greatest musicians and orators and athletes and folks across the board, across sectors, have actually taken the time to understand what’s serving their body, what’s serving their mind, what’s serving their spirit, actually have advocated for eating healthy foods and have disciplined themselves to consume the nourishment to support their work in the world. So for me, it is holistic thinking. I’m an advocate for what we put in our bodies as being the seeds to our health and happiness on all those different levels.
3. How do food, spirit, and culture mutually reinforce each other?
I think that cooking is one of the most ancient art forms, probably goes back as far as human kind. I’m sure that there’s a lot of ethnographic studies around how we’re eating in different continents and there was a lot of raw food that was being consumed at different times of the season. But culturally, we are so enmeshed with how we consume food that I think that our art forms – which for me, our art forms are actually the means to tell the story of a people of a culture – I think that our art forms actually come out of how we’ve eaten and how we’ve grown, that whole process around food systems. I always love hearing stories from around the world – you can go to a farmers market in Los Angeles and hear stories from all over the globe – about people’s cultural relationship with the food that they eat and how that’s prepared and then they’ll take you all the way back to how that was grown, harvested, preserved, and brought forth. There’s this old celebration that’s going on for the foods of their culture and of their childhood especially. It’s just incredible, the stories that I’m always receiving. I’d love to share more of those testimonials. But I think that the interesting thing in your question is that there is this beautiful linkage between food, a people, and their story, with the spiritual values that make up their worldview and their cosmology. I’m very excited that there’s a growing movement to preserve those stories, and to preserve that history. It’s vital that we understand where we come from, who we are now, and where we’re going, and that we do that in the context of some universal themes. For me, that’s food. Food is something we all consume, and yet we consume it in such different ways, with such different worldviews surrounding it. Our stories and our myths as a culture draw a lot of inspiration from the food world.