It's Labor Day weekend and you're about to cut into a humble red onion, maybe to slice it up for the burgers that are on the grill, or to chop it up for a sauce, or sliver it for your salad. You're probably in a rush to get it done, but take a few seconds and consider the rather astonishing number of people who labored in order for your onion to sit there on your cutting board, whole and unblemished and ready for your knife. It truly is astonishing. Start, if you will, with the farmer and all the labor that goes into creating food. And by farmer I mean the guy or gal who owns the fields or the farm operation, but also the people who work for the farmer. Start with the soil, and the heath of the soil, and the plowing and then planting of the onion field, followed by months of tending, weeding, and watering until finally the harvesting, then the prepping, of your onion for the market. Included in this are the people who aren't farmers but maintain the water supply, create and build the farm equipment, and the uncountable labors of people who provide the farmers and workers with everything they need to be human and alive on the planet.
Move on to the people who drive the trucks that transport your onion from the farm to a market, or a warehouse or a factory. And all the labor that goes into the making of and maintaining the truck. And all the labor that produced the fuel for the truck. And everything that the truck driver needs to be a human and alive on the planet.
Consider the people who pay for and maintain roads and stop signs and lights that assure that your onion will arrive safely to the warehouse or the market. And at the market, the people who haul the boxes that your onion is in and the people who pull your onion from the box and place it on display and people who take your money at the register and maybe even the person (getting rarer but still possible) that packs your onion into your reusable tote bag and helps you haul it out to your car. The people who clean and maintain the market, and the people who work at the electrical plant that lights the market and cools the refrigerators, and the people who take the money at the bank so that the manager can pay the electricity bill.
You get the picture, right? That if you were to follow the concentric circles of people and their work out from your beautiful onion sitting on your beautiful cutting board, you will find a vast and complex system of people and their work, seen and unseen, acknowledged and unacknowledged, but without whom your life would be miserable, if not impossible. Innumerable labors bring us our food.
We are a people of individuals and individualism, and we have much to celebrate for that, for the ways in which our self-reliant culture has enabled amazing and important achievements. But on this Labor Day weekend consider also all the ways we are intwined and connected, how we are sustained and supported by each other, that the reason you have food on your table is deeply, profoundly and nobly linked to the lives and labors of innumerable, uncountable people. Hold and respect equally the twin truths of our self-sufficiency and our interdependence, and then pick up your knife and cut that onion.
"Innumerable labors brought us this food, may we know how it comes to us.
Let us receive this as a blessing.
Let us consider whether our life and efforts honor it.
Let us aspire to a calm mind and heart and be free from greed, hate and delusion."
--Buddhist Meal Blessing
Related: Weekend Meditation: Labor and Love
(Image: Grant Wood Approaching Storm)