-by Rev. Steven Davis
In my case, it was the egg. Permit me to elaborate.
My stepdaughter Lisa and I have the kind of relationship that lots of stepdaughters and stepfathers have. It is a tentative and sometimes treacherous relationship. I came into my daughter’s life (I usually omit the “step” step part) when she was 8 years old. While I think I have brought some semblance of fatherly love and family security, she has also afforded me a kind of love and wisdom that I may not have gotten in any other way.
My daughter is a Professor of Cultural/Medical Anthropology. How she managed to make this way in the world is something of a wonder for me. It has to do with the absolute and unconditional love of her mother, of course, but also her own fortitude and academic acumen that has propelled her through times of discouragement, relational break ups, serious health concerns. . .and surviving and even thriving in a challenging, competitive academic milieu.
She has been one of the most effective spiritual guides in my life, exacting from me sorrow for my own shortcomings and forgiveness of hers. She has made me so proud, so furious, so flummoxed, so better a person. She has challenged me on so many fronts, including her orientation to the environment and food justice. There have been family Thanksgivings that she has boycotted because of our placing at the celebration’s traditional centerpiece a “dead bird.”
And yet, over these years, her journey in young adulthood as an on-again, off-again vegan and food justice proponent has informed my own attitude to food consumption and both its healthful and social effects.
Back to the original puzzlement of which comes first: the chicken or the egg.
When along with her two dogs she added a half dozen chickens to her family life, I was incredulous. A single mother with a demanding position at the University, she appalled me with her building a chicken coop in her backyard, eventually adding two ducks and even more chickens with all the accoutrements of table scraps strewn and served up in the yard, straw scattered everywhere, and the daily requisite attentions of letting out at dawn and in at duck of this clucking, quacking brood.
For me, the eggs came first. Yes, of course, the chickens preceded them but in my conversion to accepting her farm-style activities, it was the eggs. Almost every day she collects them and then serves them to us when we visit. They are delicious, which was an adjective that I’d never ascribed to eggs before. They had always come in the form of a sectioned, cardboard container from a chilled section of the grocery. The eggs she served and that she distributes to friends and neighbors are over the top in the taste category. The shells are all shades from pure white to tan to a muted green. The yolks are perfectly gold.
And then watching her, sometimes joining her in rounding up these creatures at evening, I have come to appreciate how their different personalities out distance the size of their brains in instilling in me a fondness for them.
I should have seen this coming. It was she who, in graduate school, managed to create a space for organics in a neighboring community garden. She tilled, planted, watered, cared for these emergent gifts of the earth long before I came to create my own organic garden while on a sabbatical leave from the consuming demands of my everyday profession. It was my appreciation of her environmental awareness but also her embodiment of it that has shifted me away from affording the cheapest produce in the grocery to paying attention to- and, yes, some extra money, for healthful food choices.
That my daughter folds this environmental action into her personal life coincides with the work she does as an anthropologist working with marginal neighborhoods in her city and communities on the surrounding Native American reservation. She schools them, as she has me, in ways to respect the earth, enjoy its treasures, and better the world.
Chicken or egg? For me it is both. The timing doesn’t matter anymore. That her passion and professional witness reaches far beyond her backyard and her stepfather’s conventional urban upbringing is a source of pride for me. And a source of hope for the future.
This Thanksgiving there will be, still, a turkey as our family’s centerpiece. She now cuts us some slack on this holiday. But a slacker in other ways far more important? Never.