Inner Life: Shelling Peas

How is it, you may wonder, that shelling peas could have anything to do with our sacred inner life?

Two summers ago I had lots of Black Eye Peas in my garden. I passed a big bag of peas to my rancher friend Linda from Crazy Hart Ranch. The following week, as she smacked her lips remembering, she told me how much she enjoyed eating the peas, and I didn’t think much of it at the time, but she told me how she sat down with a beer to shell the peas from the pods, and that it took 45 minutes. Her attitude about it was joyful as though the shelling was as good as the eating.

This summer at the Community No Till Organic Garden at Heathcote Botanical Garden we grew black eye peas, and harvested lots of pounds of peas. The volunteers and the gardeners at Heathcote got some peas to take home, and everyone said they really enjoyed them, but several people also mentioned that there was time spent on shelling the peas, and in all cases it sounded like a complaint. I showed those people who mentioned their difficulty with shelling how to find the fiber or string that they can pull to unzip the pea pod, and remembering what my friend Linda said I suggested they make it their opportunity to have a sit and a beer, and everyone thought that was a good idea, one guy even suggested he could shell his peas while he watched the news, which was his evening ritual.

All of this makes me think about my friend Linda who has spent her life ranching, and subsidizes her ranching as a surgical nurse. I know this woman is extremely busy. I understand completely why having to shell peas gave her such joy. I have had days that end before I have had a chance to sit down. When it comes time to shell peas, or dig nut meat out of black walnuts my husband and I sit down at the table often for the first time and it is the easiest task we do all day, and not at all unpleasant. As a child growing up in Maryland we were often taken out to eat crabs. Breaking and finding the meat in crabs took time and concentration. We knew we would be at the table a long time working on the crabs, but we loved knowing how to do it, spending the time opening our own food, and I still remember loving that dinner out more than any other.

I guess this sounds silly, but maybe certain foods take some time to unwrap so that we can take a rest from other things. In our culture in many ways our food has taken a back seat in our lives to everything else. We spend a lower percentage of our income on (less worthy) food than people did a half century ago, less time preparing it, and less time eating it. Even when we go out to a formal dinner we don’t care to wait very long for the meal, and we bolt it down as quickly as it is served in order to run off to the next engagement, movie, party, or home to sleep, and lately it seems most restaurant food isn’t very good or wholesome at all anyway. It is as if now that we don’t treat our food with much respect no one cares to make good food for us.

I know there is a slow food movement. I am for it. After years of bolting, and hogging down, and horsing my meals (all words I have used to describe how fast I could get a meal out of the way.) I am for absolutely stopping the clock when it comes to sitting down for a meal, and I am for making the time to find or grow the freshest most wholesome foods with which to prepare meals that give us all that we hunger for. I believe food is more than just fuel for metabolic activity. I think starting with food of good quality is primary, but I think even the simplest meals should be taken with gratitude, and given more than a moment to wholly nourish us.

Can I get an Amen?