By John Rigolizzo Jr.: Berlin, New Jersey
Not many people around the world eat “local” at Christmas.
At least nobody does in New Jersey, where I live and farm—and where snow commonly covers the fields at this time of year.
We’re already at work preparing a big dinner for our Christmas celebration: We’ll serve hundreds of raviolis to a gathering of two or three dozen members of our extended family.
For the homemade pasta, we rely on flour, eggs, and salt. We add tomato sauce, meatballs, and sausage. Some years we may include veal, which is more expensive. We’re also stocking up on garlic, parsley, and breadcrumbs.
Almost none of these ingredients are produced in New Jersey in December.
Call it a Christmas miracle: Today, we can go to the grocery store and buy just about anything we want and at any time of year. We enjoy access not just to more amounts of food than ever before, but to more varieties as well.
For my family, that includes everything we need for a large Christmas dinner right now, but also orange juice in January, grapes in February, and strawberries in March. Just the other day, I bought Hawaiian pineapple for just 97 cents.
Young people may assume we’ve always had it this good. But that isn’t true. I believe that’s an obligation for farmers like me: Talking about how our food is grown and where so much of it comes from is an important ingredient of information that is greatly needed so we can recognize how amazing this abundance of food and choice is.
I remember when it was impossible to get certain kinds of food at certain times of year. Today, we can walk into the produce section of a supermarket and see 80 or 90 different choices. A couple of generations ago, that would have felt like a dream.
Now it is often taken for granted.
G.K. Chesterton once warned us about this bad habit: “We are perishing for want to wonder, not for want of wonders,” he wrote.
Christmas is a time to remember the wonders that always surround us and to recognize them as wonderful, even if they’ve also come to seem downright ordinary.
Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah or even Kwanzaa, there is something about December that inspires people around the world to appreciate wonder and to show gratitude for family and friends as well as the abundance in our lives.
In New Jersey and across the northern hemisphere, we often call this the “dead of winter,” a phrase so familiar that it has become a cliché. But consider its real meaning: It calls attention to a moment when everything is dead and nothing grows.
Crops die. Birds migrate. Mammals hibernate.
Yet we eat heartily.
At invocations, we often express thanks for our food and for the hands that made it. I’d like to add one more thing, often overlooked during these recitations: thank you for the trade that helped get it to our table.
Trade has helped us conquer distance—and liberated us from the dire necessity of eating local, when our localities can’t supply us with enough nourishment.
Without the ability to exchange goods and services within the United States as well as across international borders, many of the pleasures we’ve come to expect at Christmas wouldn’t be possible. The presents are another obvious benefit, as free trade lowers consumer prices and makes gift giving more affordable for everybody.
But I’m a farmer, and so my thoughts tend to turn to food. When you sit down to your holiday dinner, look at what’s on your plate. Could it have come from your garden or the local farmers market? It couldn’t have come from mine, which is now barren and won’t produce anything until well into 2018.
The things that will make up my Christmas dinner had to travel a long way to get to New Jersey. Farmers and ranchers I’ll never meet had to grow it and truckers I’ll never know had to drive it here—but all of us are exchanging goods and services in a successful system of trade that will make this holiday season as wonderful as ever.
John Rigolizzo, Jr. is a fifth-generation farmer, raising fresh vegetables and field corn in southern New Jersey. The family farm produces for retail and wholesale markets. John volunteers as a board member for the Global Farmer Network (www.globalfarmernetwork.org).
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