I lectured the statue of liberty about food.
Not the actual Statue of Liberty, yet. Just for the record.
The sight of a huge blow-up statue of liberty compelled me to pull over. Twenty-five feet tall, she swayed gently in the breeze. She resided next to an abandoned lot. Face bloated and nose far less regal than the real thing, her similarities to the real thing are limited to color, torch and the pointy crown. The gracious work of art on an island in the Hudson River and the blow-up wannabe replica of the statue of liberty share little in common.
An air-filled flimsy symbol of America sited next to a burned-out, chained-up property, jacked-up my sense of irony. I thought, “I must tweet a photo of this.” I thought it would be as simple as that. I didn’t expect Tony.
Liberty Tax service pays folks to portray walking and talking lady liberties in an attempt to attract business during tax time. Evidently, to this business, liberty is manifested in the idea of paying as little as possible in taxes. Give me your tired, your poor, and your cheap.
The costumed human liberties are common around my home, but monstrous inflatable liberties near dump sites – are not. I stopped my car, got out and started trying to find a compelling angle. I was frustrated by what I could do with my iphone only.
Spotting me, the live ‘statue of liberty’ on duty, dressed in turquoise velveteen and adorned with a foam crown, saw me and made his way to me.
“She’s a lot of work to put away at the end of they day,” he says. His eyes traced blow-up liberty from feet to crown. We exchanged introductions.
Liberty Tax’s live mascot’s name was Tony. We continued pleasantries. He asked me what I did. I’m reconsidering this answer.
“I’m a garden writer,” I said.
“A what?” asked Tony
“I write about growing stuff. Mostly vegetables and ornamental plants. I love to write about farming, too,” I said. I’m quickly discovering that labeling myself “writer” would simplify my life.
“Darn,” said Tony, “Well. I sure couldn’t write about any of all that, but I can sure grow it. I grew up growing vegetables in South Carolina.”
“Knowing HOW to grow it is much more important,” I say,” You should get out there grow something”
“I grow the best tomatoes, but I live in Harrisburg so it’s easier to just pick up something at the corner store. And now since I’m single, (pause… and attempt at eye contact) I don’t have anyone to cook for me,” he said stepping closer to me.
“Nah nah na!!” I shake my head. “Don’t eat packaged junk from the mini-mart if you can avoid it. Nothing that comes in a box is good for you.”
I attacked poor statue of liberty Tony with stories of several different personal experiences including the fact my food scientist brother has crafted chemicals into food-like substances and flavorings. Ick I explained how produce shipped in from thousands of miles away loses nutrient value and explained how we really have no idea what we’re eating when we eat processed foods. I told him, a tumor found in me at 42, spurred me to be much more mindful of what I eat.
“If you can grow food,” I say to the man attempting to hit on me while wearing a velveteen dress, “You owe it to your family and everyone you know to spread the knowledge and the passion.”
“Another benny of gardening is saving money on the freshest food. I don’t know about you, but I’m broke. Imagine how little money you’d need to live on if you could grow your own food?” I ask.
“It may come to that one day,” Tony statue said.
“The time is now. This spring. We need your knowledge. We need folks who can teach others to grow some of their own food. It’s of matter of security. Do it, Dude,”
I suggested he get a plot at one of Harrisburg’s community gardens.
I’m guessing he wished he never crossed the parking lot to speak with me. And it’s highly probable that by spring, he will have recovered from my rant. Best case? He recalls his South Carolina food growing roots and becomes involved in a community garden.
It could be that Tony – like the America that Tony is paid to symbolize -does not see the urgency of fixing our food systems. With McDonald’s on every corner, it may seem that in an era of paying down our debts, waging war and maintaining the status quo, food is of little concern.
But consuming food that has been drained of nutrition and feeding ourselves with food laden with genetically engineered crops and chemicals could well be making us sick. And one major economic, political or natural disturbance would disrupt the convoluted way that food finds the way to our tables. A disruption would make food terribly scare or insanely expensive.
We can’t pay our debts, protect our families or compete globally if we are hungry and sick. The Statue of Liberty greeted many of our ancestors as they came to Ellis Island as a symbol of hope for a better life of justice, freedom and democracy. We need to work for those qualities in our food system, now. I didn’t say that to Tony. I’ll save that for the real Statue of Liberty.