Home Life Living in Society Social Commentary

Processing Vegetables Before Independence Day

Shocking Green Beans After Parboiling
Shocking Green Beans After Parboiling

It takes longer to process vegetables from the garden than it does to harvest them.

That means a lot of summer spent in the kitchen.

I focus on each job — sorting kale leaves, parboiling and freezing green beans, cutting turnips for storage — yet the mind wanders along paths hidden in a day’s activities.

We opened the house and listened to birds at the feeder. From time to time we watched as rabbit, squirrel, chipmunk, and a variety of birds sought seeds. The weather was perfect for anything and my choice was to preserve some of the harvest for later in the year.

Birds scattered when I opened the screen door and cast sunflower seeds in the grass. Eventually they returned to forage for them. It is a predictable behavior that encourages their proximity and my seed-buying. That’s not what was on my mind as I made pesto, bagged kale leaves and prepared luncheon of vegetable soup served on rice.

We live in a violent world and acceptance of such violence is part of who we are.

The list of recent bombings and killings is long, getting longer: Orlando, Florida; Istanbul, Turkey; Quetta, Pakistan; Baghdad, Iraq; Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. These violent and regrettable incidents in the last month may seem bad, and are. What is worse is the long history of genocide embedded in our civilization. The ability to tolerate genocide is a passive crime and a forgotten legacy.

The web site United to End Genocide lists our recent genocides: Armenia (1915), the Holocaust (1933), Cambodia (1975), Rwanda (1990), Bosnia (1995), and Darfur (2003). The passing this weekend of Elie Wiesel reminds us of the need to remember humanity’s crimes and do something to prevent them going forward. For Wiesel, and for many, this process begins by telling the story.

Immaculée Ilibagiza’s memoir, Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust, tells a story of how personal genocide is to those involved. She recounts specific incidents of machete killings too graphic to repeat. Her purpose is similar to that of other holocaust survivors.

“I believe that our lives are interconnected,” Ilibagiza wrote. “that we’re meant to learn from one another’s experiences. I wrote this book hoping that others may benefit from my story.”

The history of genocide against the first people in the Americas is under-recognized and little discussed. The common story is of colonial conflict, disease, specific atrocities and policies of discrimination, according to United to End Genocide. Last week an ailing and imprisoned Leonard Peltier released a letter in which he told a different story.

As the First Peoples of Turtle Island, we live with daily reminders of the centuries of efforts to terminate our nations, eliminate our cultures, and destroy our relatives and families. To this day, everywhere we go there are reminders — souvenirs and monuments of the near extermination of a glorious population of Indigenous Peoples. Native Peoples as mascots, the disproportionately high incarceration of our relatives, the appropriation of our culture, the never-ending efforts to take even more of Native Peoples’ land, and the poisoning of that land all serve as reminders of our history as survivors of a massive genocide. We live with this trauma every day. We breathe, eat and drink it. We pass it on to our children. And we struggle to overcome it.

Today the United States celebrates the signing of a declaration of independence from England with parades, barbecue, family gatherings, food, fireworks, music, travel and intoxication. The opportunity for such revelry came at a high cost.

With each cut of the knife and batch of green beans placed in the freezer I focus on the task at hand. Partly to make something that wasn’t here, and partly to forget the stains on the soul of American society.

I’m processing a lot more than vegetables.