Friday, April 29, 2011


Recently, I read Misconceptions, a book by Naomi Wolf about pregnancy, labour and having babies. It was an excellent book and I recommend it to anyone who plans on getting pregnant in the future - though possibly not if you’re pregnant now. It’s not your typical feel-good, self-help type pregnancy book. In fact, you might say it’s that type of book’s evil twin sister. Rather than being a book about what to expect when you’re expecting, it’s more about how our expectations are wrong and how society fails women in this crucial time.

It’s been nine years since I was pregnant. So I was reading it more from the point of view of reflecting on the past, rather than imagining the future. I did feel complete sympathy for Wolf when she said she threw up constantly throughout her pregnancy. And when she said the last day she was physically ill from morning sickness was on the day of her labour, I felt like yelling out ‘Me too!’. It’s the first person I’ve heard of who was also sick every day (often a few times a day) for the entire nine months. But that said, it’s not that common. And although I would have liked to have known that was a possibility, I imagine if they put it in all the pregnancy books a whole heap of women would be worried about something that probably wouldn’t happen to them.

One of the sections that I believe deserves a lot of consideration is where Wolf talks about the lack of support available to women after they have a new baby. Unfortunately it’s not a problem that is easy to fix. In the past, when a woman had a baby, there was lots of family support around. Most likely she would be living in the same area as her parents, sisters, aunts, cousins and family friends. Furthermore, many of these women were not working. Nowadays, a woman’s family can be all around the globe. It is not unusual for women to have no relatives at all in the same area. And even her mother (usually a key support person) is quite often working and unable to help in the way mothers could in the past. We can also add to the problems the fact that many women nowadays are single mothers from the beginning of their child’s life. So these people do not even have the support of a husband or partner.

I don’t think there’s an easy fix for this. We can’t make people go back to living in the same town or tell grandmothers that they can’t work. But I think at the very least society must recognise that women are not getting the support they need. We must see that new mothers now are far more isolated and alone than they ever had in the past. Something needs to be done to address this issue. What? I don’t know. But at least if we admit there is a problem there, that’s a start.

But the part that I found most heart-wrenching was actually the part that I couldn’t relate to at all. It was about labour. I never realised how lucky I was, before reading this. Maybe it’s because I’m in Australia and things are better here than in America. I suspect it probably also has something to do with the fact that I gave birth in a small hospital. Although I went in on Medicare, and theoretically did not have a choice of doctor, the doctor who delivered both my children was the same doctor I saw through the pregnancy. All the midwives were extremely supportive.

The only thing that went wrong with my ‘labour plan’ was probably due to the midwives actually trying to give me what I wanted. I had a tape that I had put relaxing music on. The only problem was I didn’t reach the end of the tape. As it was taped over an old Choirboys tape, my labour took place to the sounds of lovely, relaxing music, followed by Choirboys. It was really annoying me, but I didn’t have the energy to say anything. And I guess the midwives just supposed that that was what I wanted.

The story Wolf tells in Misconception is very different. Although she is describing the situation in the US, I suspect that some of it at least is true for Australia. And if not, there’s a chance it may follow US lines soon. But in the US at least, women’s labour receives way too much medical intervention. Wolf claims that doctors are more likely to say medical intervention is needed to justify their big pay-checks. But the biggest problem seems to be that doctors and hospitals operate on a timeframe. A woman is expected to give birth within a certain period of time. If this doesn’t happen, then all kinds of medical intervention takes place - including Caesareans when they’re not really necessary.

And some people might say, well does it really matter? For a start, labour will always be painful - and modern medicine has come up with some very good ways of alleviating that pain. Furthermore, there are very good reasons why we need medical intervention. I’m sure no-one wants to go back to the days when there was a good chance a woman might die every time they gave birth.  

But at the same time, I believe we are ruining a beautiful, spiritual, natural event. It is the time in a woman’s life when she gets to feel something of the joy the Creator must have felt when he looked over all He made. We get to not only see, but be part of new life coming into this world. And at the risk of offending the feminists, we also get to appreciate one of the great joys of being a woman. We are part of the ongoing story of generation after generation of women giving birth, and generation after generation of life coming into this world. So yes, I want medical intervention - sometimes. But I don’t want that medical intervention to completely take over this experience.

And I think it’s part of a wider story too. It’s a story where we fail to value what is spiritual and natural and beautiful. We replace God’s intended plan with profit-maximising practices. Instead of waiting for nature, we impose our will on it so that it meets our deadlines. We presume that our way of doing things is better than God’s way. We’re too busy and too egotistical to recognise the spiritual dimension of what is happening in our world. Quite simply, we fail to see.

In order for this world to truly reflect God’s plan, we need to uncover the spiritual dimensions that hide behind so many things. And just because human beings can come in with their machines and their technology and their ‘expertise’ doesn’t actually mean they are actually the experts. To truly be an expert, we need to not just look at the ‘facts’ or the ‘science’ or the ‘data’, but the whole. And the whole does not just consist of what we can study or what we can see, but includes those spiritual aspects as well.

Having a baby is not just a medical procedure. It is the most beautiful, emotional and I would say spiritual time in a woman’s life. And a successful outcome is not just a healthy baby delivered within a set timeframe. Instead it is one where the entire woman (body, emotions and soul) is respected and valued. It is one where all dimensions of the labour are looked after, rather than just the physical. And to be completely successful, it needs to recognise that giving birth is a natural and spiritual event and should be treated as such.    

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Leviticus and our treatment of the land

It’s funny how one thing ties in with another sometimes. Recently, I was reading Ecological Hermeneutics when one sentence in Tim Gorringe’s article, ‘Keeping the commandments: the meaning of sustainable countryside’ really leapt out at me. It said ‘To swap Torah for the gospel of the market is to sell our birthright for a mess of pottage’ (p289).

I don’t know why this sentence had such an effect on me. Maybe it was because I didn’t quite get it. Maybe it was because I do believe there are better ways of doing things than according to market-based rules. Or maybe it just did, for some unknown reason. All I know that is, in that whole article, it was the only sentence I felt the need to make a note of.

But what really emphasised the point was that, later that day, I was reading Leviticus. And I knew that Leviticus had a lot in it about caring for the land, and ensuring the land provided for everybody. But maybe it was because I’d just read that sentence, that verses seemed to jump out at me. And there seemed to be a lot more in Leviticus than I had even realised.

Here are some of the verses I found (taken from NRSV The Green Bible):

Leviticus 19:9-10. ‘When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the Lord your God!

Leviticus 23:22 ‘When you reap the harvest of your land you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest, you shall leave them for the poor and for the alien. I am the Lord your God!

Leviticus 25:3-5 ‘Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard and gather in their yield. But in the seventh year there shall be a Sabbath of complete rest for the land, a Sabbath for the Lord: you shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard. You shall not reap the after-growth of your harvest or gather the grapes of your unpruned vine: it shall be a year of complete rest for the land.

Leviticus 25:23-24 ‘The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine, with me you are but aliens and tenants. Throughout the land that you hold, you shall provide for the redemption of the land.

Leviticus 26:34-35 ‘Then the land shall enjoy its Sabbath years as long as it lies desolate, or you are in the land of your enemies; then the land shall rest, and enjoy its Sabbath years. As long as it lies desolate, it shall have the rest it did not have on your Sabbath when you were living on it.’

Now people might say that these are Old Testament laws and we don’t need to follow them today. And they would be right. But in looking at these verses, some things seem clear to me. First of all, God cares about the land. He wants it taken care of, not just used excessively until there is nothing left. He particularly wants the land to keep on producing food. But this is not just food for the people who own the land - indeed, Leviticus 25:23 makes it clear that no-one owns the land at all. God owns the land and we are ‘but aliens and tenants’. The food that the land produces must provide for the ‘poor and alien’ as well. The Israelites are commanded not to take every last thing from the land, but to leave some for other people.

It is very easy to read these verses and say they don’t apply. They’re Old Testament laws. Plus, most of us don’t have a harvest to glean. But to do this is a cop-out. We must instead look at our lives in light of these verses and see what they’re telling us to do today. Should we buy more food than we need and simply throw out what we don’t use? Should we buy heaps of consumer items, all of which are a drain on the earth’s resources? Should we waste electricity? Should we get everything we can out of the earth now, leaving nothing for future generations? Should some of the world get heaps of food and items while the other parts are starving? Should we destroy the world’s environment, hurting the poor and vulnerable? I think if we read Leviticus, the answer to all those questions must be ‘no’.

I’ve already mentioned this, but it’s worth repeating that the land is not ours. It is God’s. We are ‘but aliens and tenants’. Leviticus 26:34-35 also has a warning for us. If we don’t treat the land well now then it will lie desolate, so that it enjoys the rest that we did not give it. I don’t think that’s a warning just for the Israelites. And it’s not just about our moral choices or how well we worship God. It’s a warning for us now. If we won’t give the land a rest, then God will. Even if it means that it no longer produces what we need from it. 

Earth Day & Faith: Why Should Christians Care? | Cool Green Science: The Conservation Blog of The Nature Conservancy

Earth Day & Faith: Why Should Christians Care? | Cool Green Science: The Conservation Blog of The Nature Conservancy:


"The problem is that Christians can no longer afford to sit on the sidelines. Millions die annually from preventable, water-related diseases. Most are children. Extinction rates continue to exceed natural rates by more than 100 times. Our energy consumption funds mountaintop removal coal mining while our oil addiction fouls the air and laces the pockets of oppressive dictatorships.

Our faith provides an inspiring narrative to face these crises—we serve the One who created everything, called it “good” and asked humans to care for and protect it—but most Christians haven’t tapped into the story line.

What’s the solution?

I believe we must depolarize and depoliticize environmentalism. At the time of that first Earth Day, protecting nature was not a partisan issue. In the “Environmental Decade” that followed, Republicans and Democrats banded together to create the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and Congress passed the most sweeping laws since Roosevelt’s New Deal. Among new legislation were the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and the Endangered Species Act. Environmentalism was not as divisive as it is today, so these laws gained bipartisan support. Conservation was as conservative as it was liberal, which is to say, it was American. But, bipartisanship would not last.

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For more, go to: Earth Day & Faith: Why Should Christians Care? | Cool Green Science: The Conservation Blog of The Nature Conservancy:

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Uniting Church leader addresses climate change and sacrifice

Uniting Church leader addresses climate change and sacrifice: "In his 2011 Easter message, the Moderator of the Uniting Church, the Rev. Niall Reid, says Easter Sunday speaks of a God not beaten but who offers hope that pain, suffering and injustice are not the end.

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Monday, April 25, 2011

Good Friday/Earth Day: How the Food Movement is Making the Church Green - yearofplenty

Good Friday/Earth Day: How the Food Movement is Making the Church Green - yearofplenty:

"This shift away from a politically entrenched environmental movement toward a vibrant food movement opens up a new opporunity for the church to enter the conversation and even take the lead in some cases.

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An article on how the rise of the food movement may provide a good opportunity for the Church to get involved, as it plays to the Church's strengths and is less polarised an issue than environmentalism.

Coping with Plenty — Flourish

Coping with Plenty — Flourish:

"I have learned to be content
with whatever I have.
I know what it is to have little,
and I know what it is to have plenty.
In any and all circumstances I have
learned the secret of being well-fed
and of going hungry, of having plenty
and of being in need.

Philippians 4:11-12

People marvel that the apostle Paul could be content while chained in a prison cell for years. This former Pharisee probably lived in filth and darkness, ridicule, and loneliness. At best, his movements were restricted under house arrest by the Romans.

But it’s just as bewildering that Paul was content in times of plenty. When he stayed with rich folks such as Philemon or Lydia, he didn’t envy them or think, “Jesus was poor. Don’t they know that?” When he moved on from their homes to less opulent situations he didn’t think, “I sure do miss all that great food and the beautiful home.” He was truly content with whatever he had.

We’re discovering that the pressure of constant expansion often leads to the exploitation of both God’s world and other people.

Contrary to what we usually think, having plenty does not make us content. Instead, a taste of plenty makes us want a little more than what we’ve got. When offered an increase in salary, who among us would say, “No thanks. I’m content with what I have. I don’t need a thing”?

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This is an excellent article that shows how today's society contributes to our discontent with what we have. I thought the thoughts on how living a life of simplicity often involves buying more products particularly insightful. They also have some good comments about how we can train ourselves to go without. The article finishes with some steps buying can take to experiment with simplicity, including reading certain section of the bibles and exploring questions in a journal. Well worth the read!

Coping with Plenty — Flourish:

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Eco-fatigue and why green-living has to be the norm

I have a confession to make. I have not been a very good girl lately - environmentally, that is.

I had a birthday BBQ last Sunday. Although I bought environmentally responsible paper plates, there were plastic plates left over from a birthday box I got last year. And I went and bought plastic cups. And then, at the party, I just threw them all in the bin. Usually, I would have taken them home and washed them. But I just couldn’t be bothered. And to top it off, yesterday I went shopping. And instead of taking my canvas bags, I took nothing - and got all my groceries put into plastic bags.

I don't know why that is. Maybe I’ve just run a bit out of steam. Maybe I’ve been having a pretty rough time emotionally that I have no energy left over to care about the environment. Or maybe I’m just sick of being different.

And can I tell you something? It felt good chucking those cups and plates in the bins. It felt good not having to lug my canvas bags to the shops. Shameful as it is, I enjoyed losing my greenie credentials for a while.

Kermit had it right. It’s not easy being green. It takes work. It requires more effort. And sometimes you feel like you’re fighting a green battle on your own. I’ll admit something else. Sometimes I think, why can’t I be just like everybody else and not care?

Now that’s probably unfair. People do care about the environment. Someone at my party mentioned that she would have taken the cups home and washed them. Obviously I’m not the only person in my town that uses canvas bags, otherwise they wouldn’t have so many for sale. But it feels lonely sometimes. It feels a bit like I’m putting all this effort in and all it is getting me is the label of ‘different’.

It’s a bit like being a Christian really. Christians are meant to be different. And yet sometimes we look at the way the world is and go, why can’t I be like that? We want to throw off our shackles and join in the fun. And I’m not really talking about whether certain actions are moral or immoral here. I’m more talking about the sheer enjoyment of…just…not…caring.  

And sometimes the temptation to not care becomes too great. We sin. We fall. We turn our backs on our faith. We give up trying to do the right thing. Doing the right thing is just so tedious and boring - and tiring. And what bliss it is to just give up and let it go.

But it’s not the way we’re meant to live. God doesn’t ask us to do the right thing until it gets boring. God doesn’t ask us to live the right way until we get too tired. We’re meant to run the race in such a way that we last the distance. We’re meant to continually grow more and more like Christ.

But the good news is, God also knows that we will fail. And he never says, you’re just not good enough. Instead he offers forgiveness and helps us get back on the right track again. No matter how many times we sin, God’s grace is enough to cover it.

All of this sounds good, but I’m still kind of thinking - but that means I need to try again, need to go back to living as sustainably as I can and actually CARE. And I still don’t want to, right at this minute. I’m still wanting to enjoy my freedom.

Do I have to care? Really?

Well the answer is yes. But it does raise an interesting question. If someone like me, who really does care about the environment, occasionally feels that it’s all getting a bit hard, what hope do we have for other people who don’t really give it much attention?

And I suspect that it probably is too hard for a lot of people. But maybe the answer to that is not just to say, well let’s all give up, but to look at ways of making things easier. What if there were no plastic bags in supermarkets and taking your canvas bags was just normal? What if everybody was on renewable energy sources? What if public transport was so good that people didn’t want to use their car?

I would say most people probably put things in the recycling bin. And I would also say that way more people recycle now than they did in the past. And partly, that’s probably got to do with the fact that we care about recycling more now. Yay! But I would say another big reason for that is the fact that it’s so easy now. You have a recycling bin. You put things in it. Nothing difficult about that.

But another part of making things easy is that things are seen as more difficult when you’re the only one doing them. When everybody does something, we see it as normal. When only a few people do, it seems like a big chore. It’s not easy to be green because it’s not easy to be different. But if everyone was green, Kermit wouldn’t have had a song.

Imagine if only 10 per cent of the population washed their hair. I reckon, if that was the case, washing your hair would sometimes seem like an unbearable burden. But we don’t see it that way, because it’s normal. Everyone does it. We don’t even think about it.

So unless we want everyone to suffer from eco-fatigue, we need to make green living easier. The easier it gets, the more people will do it. The more people that do it, the easier it is for everyone to jump onboard. And when everyone’s onboard and living in an environmentally sustainable way, we will wonder what ever made it seem so hard.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Carbon tax. Obesity. Libya. What Would Jesus Do? | Article | The Punch

Carbon tax. Obesity. Libya. What Would Jesus Do? | Article | The Punch: "WWJD (yes, we’re using that) about climate change?

For a start, there’s a lot of stuff around about honouring God’s creation, so Jesus would probably be all about environmentalism. Or would he? Because the Bible also talks about man subduing the Earth, being the real top dog.

But then again there’s the stuff about reaping what you sow, which would seem to indicate that if you screw around with nature, it could bite you on the arse.

Not to mention Revelation 7:3: “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees”. Then there’s the taxes - render unto Caesar…

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A section in a recent Punch article that takes a humourous look at WWJD in the case of climate change, obesity and Libya.

Faith-based research report: number of Protestant pastors who believes in global warming decreasing

Faith-based research report: number of Protestant pastors who believes in global warming decreasing: "- Sent using Google Toolbar"

Although this research is from America, it's intereting to see pastors' attitudes towards global warming, and also how often they address environmental issues.

The article didn't address this, but I'd also be interested to know how many Evangelicals get their views about the environment either from their pastor or from other evangelical leaders - although I suppose that would be a hard thing to find out, not least for the fact that so often we believe our ideas come from us and not from other people. Regardless of how many it is, I think it would be fair to say that if not many evangelical pastors strongly agree with man-made global warming and rarely address environmental concerns, that will have at least some (probably quite a lot) of influence on the way the people in their congregation think about climate change as well.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Only Christianity can save economics - ABC Religion & Ethics - Opinion

Only Christianity can save economics - ABC Religion & Ethics - Opinion: "- Sent using Google Toolbar"

An article on the ABC Religion website about economics. The section on Creation is worth reading.


First, material reality is good. Second, material reality is limited. Both of these truths issue logically from the fact of creation. Creation has some share in the goodness of God by virtue of the fact that it relies upon the being of God for its being.

For more, go to: Only Christianity can save economics - ABC Religion & Ethics - Opinion:

I see his blood upon the rose

This poem was in today's Earth Ministry newsletter. You can find Earth Ministry at

The poem is: I See His Blood Upon the Rose by Joseph Plunkett 

I see his blood upon the rose
And in the stars the glory of his eyes,
His body gleams amid eternal snows,
His tears fall from the skies.

I see his face in every flower;
The thunder and the singing of the birds
Are but his voice—and carven by his power
Rocks are his written words.

All pathways by his feet are worn,
His strong heart stirs the ever-beating sea,
His crown of thorns is twined with every thorn,
His cross is every tree.

Experiencing God’s Creation, Rain or Shine - Tracey Bianchi - God's Politics Blog

Experiencing God’s Creation, Rain or Shine - Tracey Bianchi - God's Politics Blog: "- Sent using Google Toolbar"

A good article about experiencing God's creation in all its fullness.

Excerpt from article:

I’m a Midwestern girl coming out of her winter shell this month. Flip flops are lost companions just now crawling out from under beds and hidden closet shelves. My heart is light as I see daffodils fighting with the frozen ground and Magnolia buds cracking open. Every time the seasons flip and winter caves into spring I find my soul stunned again by the majesty and simple goodness of being outside.

In Chicago, three long months of the year are spent at temperatures below freezing. Then, come summer we actually have the audacity to lament the chewy, 90-degree air of July. We combat both temperature extremes by flipping on the heat or air conditioning. We race from climate-controlled homes to air conditioned cars, from heated grocery stores to humidity free schools.

If I’m not careful, I’ll spend half my life hiding inside.

For more, go to:

Experiencing God’s Creation, Rain or Shine - Tracey Bianchi - God's Politics Blog:

Thursday, April 14, 2011

To Love is to Feed

(This is a much longer post than usual. But I was thinking about writing about food and spirituality and remembered this piece. So I thought I would post it here.) 

To Love is to Feed

When my sister and I stayed at my grandmother’s place as children, she would let us collect the eggs from her chickens. It’s possible that checking for eggs originally started as a chore, as something we were meant to do. For me, at least, it soon turned into a privilege. We were only meant to check once a day, but I would go out there every hour or so. ‘Please, Baba,’ I would beg, ‘Please can I check for eggs again.’ My grandmother would say something in Ukrainian that I didn’t understand, but she would always let me go.

Sometimes my sister came with me. Sometimes I went alone. Out the back-door, into the garden filled with flowers and fruit; beautiful flowers, potted flowers, colourful flowers, strange looking flowers, flowers that scared me because they were always surrounded by bees. I never learned all their names. Even if I asked my grandmother to name each one, I would have forgotten the first one by the time she reached the last.

Past the two cherry trees that, when the cherries were ripe, provided as much fun as five children could have in the days before Nintendo. My three cousins, my sister and I would spend hours eating cherries, climbing for cherries, spitting pips at each other until it looked as if our clothes had measles. Cherry time was a special time, a seasonal time, almost a festival time.

These days, we mark our calendars with yearly events like Red Nose Day or  Jeans for Genes or holidays that have been around a long time, but only recently become commercialised. Easter, Valentines, Christmas. We turn a page in our calendar and get ready by spending hours in shopping malls. We sigh with relief when they’re over, because we have finished with the buying, finished with the giving and finished with the stress for another year. Holidays and festivals are nothing new, but they seem to have shifted to something different than what they once were. They used to be about marking the seasons, celebrating harvests and enjoying fruit that is here now, at this moment, but will be gone in a month or two. When we were children, part of the appeal of cherry season, was that it did not last all year. It was like Christmas. We enjoyed it while we could.

After passing the cherry trees, I walked by the abundant garden; as generous as my grandmother. Its edges overflowed with too much food to stay, too much food to eat, too much food to cook and often too much food to give away. I heard many an argument between my grandmother and my mother, over the subject of zucchinis. My grandmother would always be telling my parents they had to take some zucchinis. My mother would explain that we had zucchini plants and already more than enough for our use. My grandmother would start giving the zucchinis to my fathers. My mother would take them off my father and hand them back to my grandmother. My grandmother would say that even though we had zucchinis, we probably needed more. My grandmother always thought that people should have more. When the zucchinis were in season, not only did we eat them with every meal, but we had zucchini slice for afternoon tea and zucchini pancakes for breakfast.

The old cliché says ‘as happy as a child in a candy store’. Children in candy stores have no idea what true happiness is. For nothing beats the happiness of a child in a vegetable garden, where the tomatoes are eaten straight from the vine, the peas are eaten straight from the pod, the strawberries come with dirt attached and you can pick vegetables and take them to your grandmother, who will cook them into something you will eat that night.

Next I would walk along the path and pass the shed, where you pulled lights on with a cord, not a switch, and that always smelled of potatoes, onions, dirt, manure and tools. It sounds uninviting, but I thought of it was a welcoming place. This was where my grandmother kept the jars for her pickles and canning. This was where she cooked potato pancakes, though I never quite figured out why. It was often dusty and messy and unsorted. But it felt real, like a place that never pretended to be anything other than what it was. I have never been to the Ukraine. As a child I used to picture it as a big place, filled with red and black squares, colourful easter eggs, religious icons and women in scarves. And underneath the overpowering smell of cabbage and onion cooking, I would always imagine the faint scent of that shed.

Finally I was at the chickens. If no eggs were there, I felt deflated, despite the fact that I had probably checked for them less than hour beforehand. If there was one, I was as happy as pampushky swimming in sugar. I wanted to run back to my grandmother and show her my find. But an egg was precious. It had value. So I would walk, carefully and deliberately back to the house, watching that eggs the whole way. When I reached my grandmother, she would gently take it from my hands, give me a kiss and tell me, in Ukrainian, that she loved me.

My father said that the reason my grandmother kept chickens was because she did not like to waste food. Chickens could be given many of the leftovers, so that there was not so much waste. I wanted to ask my father why she cooked such big meals if she did not like wasting leftovers. But I didn’t ask. My father was not the kind of person who answered stupid questions.

My grandmother had to cook big meals. She had to give people food, and lots of it. It was part of who she was. To live, to love, was to feed.

Each mealtime involved a variety of dishes, filling up the entire dining room table and usually spilling out into the kitchen. Often we thought we had finished the meal, only to find there was another five or so dishes to go. Cabbage rolls, varenyky, stuffed peppers, salted herrings. Preceding it all was always soup, whether it was winter or summer. Often the soup was chicken noodle, but not always. My favourite soup was Borscht. The soup I could not stand was pea. My mother and aunt used to tell me that it was Incredible Hulk soup. That may have impressed my boy cousins, but it failed to work for me. Then there were the times when soup was a big bowl of mystery that seemed more like a dare than an entrée. Soup filled with unidentifiable animal parts and other strange things that did not look edible. Another byproduct of her reluctance to waste food, I suppose.

As well as the obligatory soup, all meals came with the constant refrain of ‘eat, eat’, or in Ukrainian ‘yisti, yisti’. I only ever learned a tiny bit of Ukrainian. Most of it is forgotten now. The word for ‘eat’, however, will be with me always. Even my children know it. If we refused to try a specific dish, she told us to eat. If we had space left on our plate, she told us to eat. If there was food left on the table, she told us to eat. If we did not have a fork on its way from our plate to our mouth, she told us to eat. If we had eaten more than we had eaten in the previous week, she told us to eat. Yisti, Yisti, Yisti, Yisti.

The biggest meals were at Christmas Eve and Easter. Each one was started with food that we had to eat, whether we liked it or not. Easter was not a problem at all. The beginning dish, the one we had to eat, was eggs from the basket of food that had been blessed by the priest. I never thought to ask if any of the eggs I collected were ever blessed. It seems likely. After the eggs, we had a bread called Paska with real butter that had cloves inserted into it in the shape of a cross. There was also cold meats, cheese and lots of other delicious foods. Everybody liked Easter, even my mother.

Christmas Eve did not have the same universal appeal. First of all, we started our meal with a dish made of poppy seeds called kutia. A couple of my cousins did not like this at all. As they had to eat at least some, they would put the smallest amount possible on their plate. Following this, there was a vegetarian meal, including many dishes that were not that popular with us kids. Even though I love most of my grandmother’s meals now, there were times when I would have dearly loved to trade them in for some KFC – or Kentucky, as we called it then. Another tradition we followed at Christmas Eve was to set a plate aside for the people who had died, with pictures of them next to it. A little of each dish was placed on that plate. Sometimes I half expected my grandmother to tell those deceased relatives to ‘yiste, yiste’. 

My mother, who is not Ukrainian, did not like a lot of the food that my grandmother cooked. Not only that, but she couldn’t eat cabbage, which does not work well at a Ukrainian table. My grandmother would look upset when my mother had hardly anything on her plate. My mother would get annoyed when my grandmother kept telling her to eat. Neither of them understood where the other person was coming from.

I too have had an argument with my grandmother over food. Her house is not that far from mine. When the children were young, she often walked past and every time she did she would knock the table and give them something to eat. A bowl of donuts, twisted pastries or sometimes chocolates or biscuits. I did not want my children eating such unhealthy food all the time, so I asked her not to bring them so much. So then, instead of knocking on the door, she took to standing on the footpath and calling until they looked through the window. When they saw her, she would beckon them to come outside, where she would give them food away from my eyes.

As soon as I discovered what she was doing, I told her to stop it. I got angry. She got angry. In the end, she refused to speak to me. It’s the only time in my life when my grandmother has ignored me. Eventually I ended up apologising, even though I knew I was in the right. Just like with my mother, it was a case where neither one of us understood the other.

Another reason why I did not want my grandmother giving my boys food all the time was because I did not want them to see her only as a source of treats. I wanted them to love her for herself, not what she would give them. I thought that food and love should be kept completely separate. It never occurred to me that maybe my grandmother did not see things the same way.

For most of my life, I had simply accepted that my grandmother liked to feed people. I never thought to ask why she did this. I never wondered if she had good reasons for it. If anything, I thought it was more a fault than anything else. Sure, it was good to feed people. But so much? And so often? And with such unhealthy food?

Revelations can come from the unlikeliest sources. Mine came when I was watching Masterchef. Julie was explaining to the judges her reasons for cooking. She said that, through her food, she wanted people to feel nurtured and loved. It seemed apparent that, to Julie, feeding people was a way of loving them. Suddenly I began to understand my grandmother a little better.

My grandmother did not grow a lot of vegetables and give most of them away just because she liked gardening. She did not provide us with huge meals, which she would tell us to eat and eat and eat some more, just because she liked cooking. And she certainly did not buy my boys treats just because she wanted to annoy me. She did these things because it was her way of loving us.

Food is not just food to my grandmother. It is precious. It has value. Even when it’s not done in a church by a priest, it is blessed. To feed someone is not to keep them from starvation. To feed someone is to give them something precious. It is a loving thing to do. Food and love are not separate for my grandmother, as they are for me. Instead, they are connected.

Once when my grandmother was visiting, I made the offhand comment that one of my favourite foods was her potato pancakes. Later that day, she came around with a dinner plate piled so high with potato pancakes that its height was larger than its width. It was the last time I ever had my grandmother’s potato pancakes. It was the last time I will ever have them.

I never thought I would ever say this, but I wish I had eaten more at my grandmother’s table, paid more heed to her constant refrain or ‘yisti, yisti’, For I did not realise that Paska, cabbage rolls, stuffed peppers, potato pancakes and varenyky would not be around forever. I can now have Kentucky any time I want to, not that I want to very often. It’s not so easy to go to the food court and eat some cabbage rolls. If I had just one of those old dishes, I would be as happy as -- well, as happy as a child in a vegetable garden.

My grandmother is still alive. But she is old and she is frail. She is preparing herself for death. She no longer has any chickens. My children will never know the joy of collecting eggs. There is nothing much left in her garden. The cherry trees were chopped down years ago. Although she still has the family over for Christmas and Easter, those dinners are much smaller than they once were. The Christmas Eve dinner has completely disappeared. She is no longer capable of such hard work. Even the meals she eats herself are provided by Meals on Wheels.

She still brings treats for my boys though; a chocolate bar, a tin of biscuits, a packet of chips, a bag of lollies. Something she has bought from Coles. I no longer argue with her. For a woman who loves through feeding, it is all she has left. I won’t take that little away from her.

Earlier this year, I attended a multicultural food festival. I looked everywhere for Ukrainian food, for something that my grandmother used to make. I could find nothing. I can’t even remember what I ended up eating now. I know I was not impressed. Perhaps it was for the best. My sister tells me that when she visited the Ukraine, the cabbage rolls were not nearly as good as our grandmothers. It surprised me, but it shouldn’t have. Even if the cabbage rolls were made in the exact same way as my grandmother, they would be missing an essential ingredient. I know it’s a cliché, but they would be missing love.

I have tried to make my own Ukrainian food. I have made varenyky that fell apart, and cabbage rolls that never came together in the first place. I had better luck with potato pancakes. They tasted quite nice, but they weren’t like my grandmothers’. I think they were missing the required amount of fat. Nobody cooks like my grandmother anymore. The health professionals tell us not to. Strange, though, that my grandmother ate like that all her life. She may be frail and elderly, but she’s over 90 and still alive.

Last week, I bought my sons and myself some scones from Baker’s Delight. There was a chocolate scone, a chocolate coconut scone and a banana choc-chip scone and we all had a different one each. I gave some of my chocolate coconut scone to each of my boys so that they could try it. Then my youngest son tried to give me some of his banana choc-chip scone. A banana choc-chip scone did not sound too tempting to me, so I told him I did not want it. ‘Take it’, he said. ‘Eat it.’ I told him again that I did not want it. He told me again to eat it. Eventually I relented and took the scone he offered. As soon as it was in my mouth, he said, ‘I’m just like Grandma, aren’t I?’

I had never thought of it before, but he is just like my grandmother. He loves to share food. If I buy him a chocolate bar, there’s a good chance he’ll give me at least some of it back. Whenever he has a packet of chips, he is always handing them out to people. If he has a piece of cake, some of it will end up on someone else’s plate. When he buys a treat with his pocket money, he’ll buy something for his brother to eat as well. He loves to give food to people. Perhaps, like my grandmother, food and love are connected for him.

I hope so. Even though I may no longer eat the food my grandmother used to cook, there is a chance that I may see her legacy in the way my son loves through feeding. And who knows? Maybe one day he may even learn to make cabbage rolls.