Food For Thought

The Spirituality of Canning

Janet Speth, CSJ on behalf of the Federation Ecology Committee

These late summer days, I await the showing of those first red tomatoes in my small garden. I anticipate their delicious taste fresh off the vine and the enjoyment of preserving them for sauces and soups for cold winter nights.

Participating in the ‘4 P’s of Local Food: Planting, Picking, Preparing and Preserving’ (1) and following the 100 mile radius for purchasing local food continually raises our consciousness about care for Earth. We impact global warming by fostering relationships with local farmers, reducing long distance transportation; and by canning we provide local food year round, decrease food waste and reuse glass Mason jars. However, beyond the environmental impact how does preserving: bottling and canning, deepen our evolutionary spirituality? A few Sisters generously offered to expand my musings.

Julian of Norwich prayed, “Within us – as a sheer gift of God- is the capacity to bring forth what has never been before.” Canning is a work of art and in this creative expression we participate in new unfolding of the Universe. Graced with Earth’s abundance we share in its cycles of dying and re-birthing as fruits are transformed into delicious jams and jellies and zucchini and cucumbers into zesty relishes and pickles. Our rootedness in Earth’s values of diversity, inter-dependency and intimacy is embedded in these sacred relationships with the natural world.

Inter-relatedness is also enlivened as we recapture fond memories of our mothers and grandmothers lovingly putting down garden produce. A sense of belonging to cultural identities and ancestral heritage is nurtured as we now carry forward generational wisdoms of the land. Even if we are not attracted to doing canning, we are steeped in these connections each time we enjoy tasty home-made preserves.

Essential to inter-dependency is community building. Nature manifests this in the intricacies of eco-systems. Canning embodies our charism of presence to the dear neighbour. Together, Sisters Sharon Miller and Pauline Guindon (SSM) make jelly from their crab apple trees for the community at North Bay’s ecumenical “Gathering Place,” which welcomes the homeless, disadvantaged, and economically and spiritually challenged. Sister Gwen Smith (Toronto) makes preserves with the participants at the Mustard Seed Community Kitchen. The communion climax is, “Taste and See the Goodness of the Lord,” with all sharing a dish made from the fruits of their labour. Sisters Linda Gregg and Mary Rowell (in Canada) ensure that food from the Community Gardens at the Villa is preserved and used to nourish the many retreatants that come throughout the year.

Mary Oliver in her poem, Answers, writes: “How she (her grandmother) poured confusion out, how she cooled and labelled all the wild sauces of the brimming year.”

Preserving the fruits of the earth is a holy activity. It takes time, patience, and care and fosters joy. It invites us to attend the body of Christ with reverence and grateful heart. Even the simple act of giving a gift of preserves to family and friends is a reaching out in love. Most importantly it is an act of hope and optimism trusting in the providence of the Divine, bestower of fruitfulness, ever promising the flourishing of all life.

(1) Planting, Picking, Preparing and  Preserving These are the 4 P’s of  Local Food, as coined by Neil Tilley, an organic farmer and advocate for  environmental stewardship from  Newfoundland.

(2) Thank you to Sisters Betty Lou Knox, Pauline Guindon, Sharon Miller, Gwen Smith, Linda Gregg, and Mary Rowell.

A Failed Promise and God’s Promise

Linda Gregg CSJ on behalf of the Federation Ecology Committee

In the world of vegetable production, purveyors of genetically modified (GM0) seeds promised great things for the global community, trumpeting greater food production and reduced pesticide use in a relatively short time. GMO seeds were the answer for a starving world. This was in the late 80’s -90’s. Canada and United States bought into that message. Western Europe did not.

The twofold promise of GMO seeds was first, to make crops immune to the effects of weed killers and inherently resistant to many pests, and second, because the plants from these seeds would grow so robustly that GMO seeds would be heralded as indispensable in feeding the population of a growing world. This would also require less spraying of crops with pesticides.

It is a failed promise.

In the past twenty years the analysis of yields from both the U.S. and Western Europe reveals little difference between crops of non-GMO seeds in Western Europe and crops using GMO seeds in the U.S. and Canada. Overall pesticide use has increased in the U.S. while in France there have been major reductions in overall pesticide use. The vaunted abundance of crop yields has failed to materialize. One would assume similar statistics in Canada. This increase occurs despite GMO being the seed of choice planted for the major crops of corn and soybeans in North America. The reality is that herbicide use on corn and soybeans has soared. Making more profits for Monsanto. Farmers cannot save their own seed and are tied contractually to purchase GMO seeds. Although Western Europe is closed to GMO, Monsanto boasts of surging markets in other places of the globe

One is reminded of the story of David & Goliath. Yet, resistance to corporate greed is not without effect. Although some markets are certainly soaring for Monsanto, there is resistance, notably in Africa, India and South America. And they are statistically significant. Just not reported as such. There are pieces of light in the darkness of corporate deceit.

One is also reminded of a vulnerable child born in a stable, in a time of deep darkness. A light that could not be quenched. A promise that was and is fulfilled. It is to believe in the light that is stronger than any darkness of heart. We are part of those pieces of light that pierce the darkness of corporate greed every time we pray for organic farmers, buy organic food and wherever we can plant heritage seeds, whether it be on a balcony or in a field. Sometimes these seeds will be planted in our home gardens, sometime they will be the seeds of hope planted in our prayers. We all are part of bringing to birth the promise of God’s kin-dom. All are needed to quench the darkness and bring the light of God’s love to birth in our world and in our time. One seed at a time.

How Does Your Garden Grow?

Prepared by Ann Marshall CSJ on behalf of the Federation Ecology Committee

Spring is a siren call for all creation to a renewed relationship with Mother Earth to bring forth new and abundant life.  The die-hard gardeners among us are at the starting gate even before spring officially arrives.  These nurturers of the soil and spirit tell us that gardening is gratifying, and simple tasks like pruning and weeding can relieve stress, improve mood, fill one with hope, and help develop emotional wellbeing.   There is a sense of purpose and achievement in cultivating a garden, it is a vehicle for connecting with others, and spiritually it provides occasions to spend time outside communing with nature and breathing in the great outdoors.

Food for Thought is highlighting some Federation gardeners.  The following is a “taste” to tempt you to our Federation website very soon, and we gather many more pictures from our wonderful gardeners.  We’ll let you know when the website is updated.

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An enthusiastic Sister Gwen Smith (Toronto) and volunteers at the community garden growing food for nutritious meals for the Mustard Seed Community.


My interest in gardening and growing up in the Netherlands certainly gave me that passion.  I enjoy beautifying and caring for the earth and its flowers, plants, veggies, trees etc. to watch them grow produce, bloom and be used for others enjoyment.  Lydia Smeets CSJ


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Sister Jane Fischer, Pembroke, can hardly wait for the snow to be off the ground before she begins making plans for her precious plants – flowers and vegetables. Jane’s floral window boxes are primarily for the sisters who can’t walkout doors any more, but appreciate watching them grow and thrive in the summer. Her tomato plants are thriving in Pembroke sunshine.

Food Trends 


Nancy Wales CSJ

Have you heard about Generation YUM?   They are a large subset of Millennials or Generation Y. Those who were born between the early 80’s and the early 2000’s. In a recent interview on the AGENDA, host Steve Paikin spoke with author, Eve Turow Paul, a free-lance food, travel and culture writer. Her new e-book, “A Taste of Generation YUM” has just been released. The author admitted that it was her own curiosity which prompted her research into the reasons behind the changing relationships of Millennials with food. In her search for answers, she interviewed many of her peers and numerous food leaders. Her findings supported her initial observations that significant numbers of Generation Y are truly obsessed with all things food. ‘Foodies’ par excellence, she labeled Generation Y also as Generation YUM.  Continue reading

Stop Food Waste

Untitled-1Nancy Wales CSJ

By the Numbers 

It is a startling fact that household waste accounts for an overwhelming 40 % of food wastage.[1] Every year, $27 billion worth of food finds its way into garbage cans, compost bins and giant dumpsters.[2]

Multiple Losses

Food waste causes more losses than one would first think. It has both an environmental and economic impact. Continue reading

The Truth And Myth Of Organic

Kathleen O’Keefe, CSJ

Over the past two years, I have been blessed to live at Villa St. Joseph Retreat and Ecology Centre in Cobourg, ON; and, most recently, I spent the summer months at the Ignatius Jesuit Centre in Guelph, ON.  Experiencing earth to table eating has allowed me to enjoy the wonderful sensory delight of organic food.  Nettie and Susan, two gifted cooks, skillfully prepared delicious meals that were nourishing for both body and soul!  I learned that persons in Cobourg and in Guelph have the opportunity to rent community garden plots if they wish to grow their own food organically. Community Shared Agriculture in Guelph provides freshly harvested organic products for persons to take home for family meals.   Continue reading

Advent Ponderings…

On the Stories of Seeds and the Stories of our Souls

Linda Gregg CSJ

Here at the Villa in Cobourg, the garden has been “put to bed” and winter is settling in contentedly around us. The air is colder, seeping into the ground and readying the earth for its winter sleep. I was sorting some dried seeds the other day and was reflecting on the way seeds have stories, each unique to its own variety and type. Within the heart of seed lies a story about to be born, but before that time of birthing there is a journey that it must undergo.  Continue reading

Our Endangered Neighbour

Rita Godon CSJ

My fascination with bees began at the early age of five when I started school.  In our small unfamiliar library, perched on a top shelf, was a grey massive empty hive.  I had to face the reality of this strange form whenever I reached up for a book.  I was reminded over and over again that the hive was indeed empty.  Over time I learned to respect bees.  I got to love them.  I was assured that they wouldn’t bite me unless I disturbed them.  I discovered bees were amazingly hard workers and creators of beauty.  En masse, they cooperate so well with each other in achieving their goal of making honey to my amazement.  In my later years I became aware that honey bees account for 80% of all insect pollinators. They play a vital role in our food chain.  Continue reading

Wing Beats of Hope – Monarchs and their gift to us and all the earth 

Linda Gregg CSJ

At Villa St. Joseph in Cobourg we would always look forward to the arrival of the Monarchs in late summer and early fall. Their orange and black wings, exquisitely patterned, would be everywhere. If you walked near the Mountain Ash tree by the verandah the branches would suddenly flutter alive in a breathtaking dance of winged beauty and dazzling life.  Each year their numbers have been dwindling and we have had the sense something was deeply out of balance.  Continue reading