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Shambhala Sun | May 2011
You'll find this article on page 96 of the magazine.

About a Poem: Jill S. Schneiderman on Donald Rothberg's "Tomato"

  TOMATO

  Tomato in my salad bowl
  Is all there is.
  Big as a watermelon,
big as the earth,
big as my mind.
  Glistening, shining, with
time’s still rush,
  We’re locked together
for this part of eternity,
  Tomato and me.

  I feel taken into
the cherry tomato roundness,
  orange redness,
its fact of existing.
  I’ve never known
a tomato
quite like this.

  This could go on a long time,
  It’s so compelling.
  I’m becoming tomato,
  Tomato me.
  Who’ll blink first, me or tomato?

  It is said that
“Freedom is not needing to know what comes next.”

  I eat it.

  Then,
I notice a leaf of lettuce.


Slowly consuming a raisin often serves as an introductory exercise in the practice of mindful eating. But for me, there’s nothing like paying attention to a homegrown tomato. So when tomato season came to a close and I resumed my teaching on environmentalism and social justice, I delighted in this poem by Donald Rothberg, a teacher of socially engaged Buddhism. I thought, “Tomato” could be an anthem for twenty-first-century environmentalists because, as my friend John Elder, a teacher of American nature writing, says, the Slow Food movement will be to twenty-first century environmentalism what wilderness preservation was to its twentieth-century precursor—the nexus of progressive action.

As the Western frontier of the United States disappeared in the late-nineteenth century, naturalists like John Muir worked to preserve areas they deemed “wilderness;” consequently, national parks exist today. But elitism tainted that movement, and women and people of color avoided it. Later, in the twentieth century, a new environmentalism prioritized concern for social justice. In the seventies, feminists revealed connections between the exploitation of nature and the oppression of women and other groups who were considered secondary in society. Building on those ideas, contemporary environmental justice activists have exposed how communities of color and low-income urban dwellers are the primary bearers of environmental ills. Unnatural disasters following Hurricane Katrina and the Port-au-Prince earthquake, for example, have highlighted this.

Today the Slow Food movement excites populations of racially and economically diverse young people largely unencumbered by traditional gender roles. Heightening awareness of the connection between food and environment, the movement has the potential to galvanize others because it unites pleasure with responsibility. “Kill me along with this tree I occupy” or “Taste this tomato!” Which rallying cry do you think will encourage others to embrace environmental awareness? My students are choosing the latter.

What we eat and how we come by it matters to every living being and therefore constitutes a unifying theme for a lasting and socially just environmentalism. With its emphasis on stillness and sufficiency, Buddhism has much to offer this new environmentalism. Slow Food is about paying attention to what we eat and how we produce it—in other words, being mindful about consumption. In my opinion, whether we’re consuming raisins or tomatoes, socially engaged Buddhists can share with others the powerful practice of mindful eating.


Jill Schneiderman is professor of earth science at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York, and editor of The Earth Around Us: Maintaining a Livable Planet.


As seen in the May 2011 issue of the Shambhala Sun. Click here to browse the entire issue online.




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