Peeling the Onion

So I’m happily reading the Land Stewardship Project newsletter when I come across this passage, about a tribally supported agricultural organization:

Growing food in the community and getting people to consume it are different things.  That’s why Wozupi provides classes for the public throughout the year on not only food production, but preparation and preserving.  “We’re recognizing that a lot of our TSA members may not have ever peeled an onion before,” says Yoshino.

I feel punched in the gut, not unlike receiving the news that the monarch butterfly population was decimated by hot weather this year, or an earlier LSP article that mentioned how many grade school kids are surprised to learn that carrots come out of the ground.  Never peeled an onion?!  This is tragedy of an order I can barely comprehend.  Because if you’re an adult who’s never peeled an onion, chances are good you eat a lot of prepared or fast food, and bear the health consequences.  And you don’t have access to vegetables at your nearest store, so you don’t know the pleasurable heft of a bag of onions.  And you don’t know what it’s like to have onions sautéing in butter on the stove, scenting up your kitchen.  And you don’t eat meals around the table with family.  And you’ve never, ever pulled a beautiful gold globe out of the soil.

Onions are foundational in cooking, regardless of culture or creed, so life without peeling onions is life without real food.

Strangely, though, what really gets me is the loss of the metaphor.  You need to peel away the layers of an onion to understand how multidimensional life is, how layer after layer contributes to the whole.  Or how an onion can have one rotten layer in the middle of pearly, crisp white.  Sink a knife into an onion and your eyes will sting, you won’t be able to see what you’re doing for all the tears, but it’s worth it once the skillet warms and that heady, pungent scent fills the house.

Humans need intimacy with our food because food is wise; it shows us who we are.  We need onions to teach us how bound up pain and pleasure are, how rewarding it is to look beyond the surface, and how a vegetable that tastes horrid one moment can be transformed by heat into something heavenly.  The tragedy that parallels the environmental crisis is our loss of connection to the earth.  Thank God for organizations like Wozupi and LSP, who are holding up onions and saying, “Here.  I’ll show you how.”                                                            –Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew

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