By Erin Grayson
I expected that it would be difficult to convince my family of five to adopt a Meatless Monday as part of our weekly meal rotation. Not many years before we committed to it, our three-year-old son declared, “I no like leaves,” when my husband asked why he wasn’t eating his dinner. I recall that memory fondly, not only because it was funny to hear a toddler’s interpretation of the salad on his plate, but also because it was Earth Day and I was proud to be serving the first of the spring vegetables from my backyard garden.
We were living in Memphis, TN where the climate allowed for a long growing season and I was thrilled to have a flat space in the sunshine to try my hand at vegetable gardening. As a young child, I remember helping my grandmother tend a garden she kept on a neighbor’s property. We grandchildren loved to tag along, even if we ended up climbing the nearby trees rather than helping. I liked to pick the string beans because I had permission to taste them to see if they were ready, but my favorite thing was when the blueberries were ripe. We’d all gladly help then because we knew the reward: homemade milkshakes when we got back to grandma’s house.
My garden in Memphis was not nearly as vast or sophisticated as my grandmother’s, but it offered an opportunity to share the experience of gardening with my children. That year we had a bumper crop of zucchini squash and the juiciest tomatoes I’d ever tasted, not to mention a new neighbor to share it with: a garter snake took up residence in the garden and scared the wind out of me when I was pruning one morning. Over the years since, our family has moved all over the globe and I credit our Memphis garden for instilling a curiosity in my children about what kinds of things grow best in the regions and climates where we find ourselves. Even in the sandy Middle Eastern desert, we learned that the earth yields fruit with careful cultivation.
While it’s been fun to discover new and interesting produce, I can’t say that my youngest child’s attitude about eating vegetables has changed all that much from Earth Day, 2008, which is why I anticipated that my Meatless Monday suggestion would be met with resistance. And to some extent it was, until his older sister chimed in to share some information she’d learned about factory farming, followed by our eldest son who spouted off facts about the environmental impact of eating meat. A conversation ensued about what it means to be a good steward of the earth and all of creaturekind, and our Meatless Monday was born!
No one even seems to notice that we eat less meat because it’s become a healthy habit, for our bodies and our spirits. Now we live in northern California, in a very diverse city where it’s been a real adventure to discover different cuisines and new ingredients that grow from the soil. My youngest son is especially excited about the lemon tree we planted in a pot on our back porch. Some of the fruit is almost ready, and we’ve decided to make his favorite dessert—lemon squares—with our lemons and the fresh eggs a neighbor offered from her sweet chickens.
The practice of Meatless Monday spilled over into Taco Tuesday and Pizza Friday. Now caring for all of creation has become our family’s ethos—not just when it comes to consuming food, but in all areas of consumption. My son monitors our family’s water use, and is quick to point out when we’re wasting electricity. Recently on a shopping trip with my teenage daughter, she kindly asked me to step away from a certain cosmetics counter because she had read about which companies were vegan and cruelty-free. That one, it turns out, wasn’t on the list.
Aside from pots of kitchen herbs and the occasional tomato plant, I don’t always have the time or space to have a garden. I take advantage of farmer’s markets and even the supermarket which proudly features local produce. Both influence our Meatless Monday menu—and trust me when I say that our repertoire is not complicated and usually involves a google search for quick and easy recipes. Our family’s behavior is far from perfect, but because of one small change in our weekly meal rotation, we’ve become much more aware of our impact on creation—and our responsibility to it. I’ve learned much, but perhaps what I’ll always carry in my heart is that even though I may not be gardening, I’m still planting seeds.
Erin Grayson recently relocated to the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband Tony, kids, and their dog Stella. The thing she is most proud of is that she is raising kind and compassionate children. Erin is a certified candidate for ordination in the PCUSA and UCC and is searching for a call to ministry. You can find more of her reflections on the art of faithful living at www.erinkgrayson.com.