On Abundance

as a prayer.

To believe the world is abundant right now might seem like a fool’s errand. The word “abundance,” though, has been all I can think about lately: its meaning, its reality. I’ve been thinking about it because of the generosity of a neighbor giving me gigantic pumpkins, of a friend giving me banana blossoms from his family’s farm, and of the friends I’ve never met in real life who’ve shared their family recipes for cooking fritters and curries with those flowers. I’ve been thinking about abundance because of generosity and because of hospitality, a true hospitality between people invested in making each other happy and sharing knowledge. These are glimpses of the possibility of a world without endless competition and strife and meaninglessness. 

There’s something about this word that brings me peace, that is like a prayer to me, and it has its root in, I must admit, the musician Sufjan Stevens. When my brother passed and I was listening to Carrie and Lowell on repeat, I also kept looking at his website. “The world is abundant,” he’d write on nearly every post. I had to believe that in my darkest moment, and this moment feels so dark, too; it makes sense I’m going back to this prayer to not feel fear or see scarcity, but to remember: The world is abundant.

Banana blossoms have been my focus today, and I’ve watched a few YouTube videos to understand how to clean and prepare them. What could be more abundant than food inside a flower, a flower that grows at the end of the banana’s raceme? You do need abundant time to remove the flowers from between the thick inner leaves, to take out their stamens, to soak them and then ultimately cook them. All those viral tweets about how we were meant to eat fruit naked on the beach, to which my silent reaction is always that we were probably meant to do a lot of fucking work to feed ourselves. To learn by trial and error. To toil.

The way we think of abundance in the United States has nothing to do with banana trees that bear fruit and edible flowers. It has to do with how much is in the supermarket, how much false choice there is between the products of just a few agribusiness conglomerates. This is an obvious statement, of course, but it’s worth repeating that the ways of eating in the U.S. are against nature—meaning actively working to destroy nature—and for capital. We grow mostly genetically modified corn on nearly a quarter of our farmland to feed cruelly confined animals not meant to live on it, so that there is a seemingly endless supply of meat in the supermarket, inefficiency be damned. That isn’t abundance; it’s a lie.

Lately “abundance” has come up in the writing and interviews of so many people in food whom I follow, and I think this is about how many of us, by necessity, are reframing our perspectives. I also think it’s just easy to consider the world abundant when you are focused on food and when you have a relationship to food that isn’t purely transactional and consumerist, meaning you see it grow or it’s given to you or you share it freely. It’s the word Francis Moore Lappé used in Diet for a Small Planet as the opposite of the scarcity many in power were talking about, writing in the 1980 edition, “My book might better be called Diet for an Abundant Planet—now and in the future.”

Mold issue 5 (which I bought because Zacarías González—chef, Ediciones Projects founder, and development partner at Auxilio Space, dedicated to free food distribution in New York City—posted about it) is all about seeds, and there is so much brilliance contained in it, so much hope from those who are saving seeds, sharing seeds, seeing in seeds the possibility we need for the future. Reading a magazine about food wherein climate change is a real and urgent concern has been a balm, honestly, as I get deeper into my book. In an interview, Vandana Shiva talks about an “economy of abundance” and the failures of the Green Revolution, which focused on “high-yield crops” that were really about yielding big profits for agribusiness.

“Abundance is where the seed and the food are interconnected again,” Shiva says. “Instead of eating 10,000 kinds of plants appropriate to place, and creating living economies appropriate to place, we made eating the ultimate act of alienation from the earth.”

I asked a couple of the food folks who have been talking about abundance to tell me their definitions, their visions, and they align with Shiva’s. González himself explained to me his idea behind an “economy of abundance” and how that influences his work:

Abundance economy to me is about sharing it’s about respect, joy, balance, health etc. the very foundation of auxilio space is about aid, assistance, sharing resources. So, when I think about the work, I’ve been doing for the past few years to lay the seeds for it and where it’s at today it’s about creating new systems of sharing basically because there is an abundance of resources. I view my part in this work as creating connectivity. In terms of auxilio space the programing that we’re working on directly relates to creating a space that is centered around sharing resources, sharing food, and creating opportunities. In no way do I look at what’s there and think there isn’t enough but instead my work is about connecting dots, creating the relationships, and bringing resources together over an ever-growing network of relationships based on sharing.

For too long the dominant culture has been the antithesis of this and specifically folks in my communities have suffered from a lack of access not a lack xyz. It’s a system that was set up to exclude us. So, for me it’s about saying no to this culture with the thoughts that “who gets to eat?” shouldn’t even be the question, that food should be a right not a privilege. In addition, really diving into rethinking what access looks like going beyond merely feeding people with what we deem adequate and rethinking what adequate even means.

I think we’re at a critical point where we just simply cannot keep going forward the way this culture has gone on. If you look out how little we value life, the lives of Black folks, queer and trans and non-white folks in this society to the way it’s handled medical care as an entire system built upon profit verses care. It’s not hard to see that AIDS and HIV could be managed better if we focused on actual value of life over profit, patents the same way we can look at Agriculture corporations patenting seeds. An economy of abundance is embracing and moving out of we’re all connected and valued and that my work centers sharing to meet others needs.

“Banana and coconut trees are such abundance!” writer Apoorva Sripathi tells me. She sent me her family recipes for how to cook with banana blossoms. “They give us everything!! Have literally utilised every part of the banana except roots and such joy it gives me!  Something about seeing banana and coconut trees and thinking, I'll be fed for life. Banana, mango and jackfruit are referred to as mukkani, or three fruits—they're like the holy trinity of fruits in my state of Tamil Nadu! They're literally the definition of abundance.”

“I think about abundance and scarcity on a spectrum a lot,” says Melissa Rebholz, a personal chef in Wheeling, West Virginia. “I live in places where people are barely making ends meet but at the same time have worked on so many farms that send thousands of pounds of food back into the earth or a compost pile. Having food whether it’s raw or cooked to give away and not NEED monetary compensation in return is abundance in my eyes.”

In Hanna Garth’s Food in Cuba: The Pursuit of a Decent Meal, there is “decency” and “adequacy,” but not abundance. (I’ll be talking to her about this more for a forthcoming Friday conversation.) “For many Cubans, an adequate food system is an indication of a strong socialist state that reflects their long-standing ideologies of justice, equality, and independence,” she writes. Despite adequacy, the work of food acquisition and preparation is cumbersome, and it’s difficult to find everything everyone might want for special occasion meals. Predictably, this is intensely distressing. When someone has a meal in their mind to make for a birthday and they can’t get what they need, there’s a feeling of failure, even when it’s not their fault. 

The flexibility provided by a specific kind of abundance—extra pumpkin, banana blossoms blooming, an excess of food, period, growing in the garden to give away—rather than the idea of abundance we’ve been sold, quite literally, being access to anything at any time to buy is what fuels creativity, excitement, a feeling of safety in the midst of an uncertain future. Abundance doesn’t have to be gifted to us; it can be cultivated. It can be a choice we make, in order to take care of each other and the earth. The world is abundant, I remind myself again in a dark time. I pray it. We just have to be sure to see it that way, to share it that way.

This Friday’s paid-subscriber interview will feature Hannah Howard, author of Feast: True Love in and Out of the Kitchen and, next month, Plenty: A Memoir of Food and Family. We discuss vulnerability in writing, celebrating women in restaurants, and Howard’s specific love for and interest in cheese.

Annual subscriptions are $30; $5, monthly. Listen to audio readings of essays here.

A piece on bananas and biodiversity for The Washington Post!

Decided to say fuck it and return to My Struggle. I’m only on Book 3, but I think this is what I need to finish my book: Knausgaard writing alongside me.

Harissa eggplant was dope as hell! I split some small white eggplants down the middle and salted them to release their bitter juices, patted them dry after 30 minutes, and then gave them a crisscross pattern with a knife. Then I brushed them with harissa and let them marinate while we were at the dog park. When I returned, I got my flat cast-iron super hot, put on a little olive oil, and then browned them on both side. DOPE! Up there are the baked pumpkin doughnuts.