Jessica Prentice’s book Full Moon Feast: Food and the Hunger for Connection has both moved and surprised me. On a quest for a true feeling of nourishment, Prentice explores traditional foodways and discovers across cultures a deep connection and reverence for the Earth that many of us today are out of touch with. She connects every chapter to a corresponding moon; every full moon marks the beginning or end of a season and carries with it great significance and symbolism. Her book follows the natural progression of a year, beginning with a chapter on The Hunger Moon and later exploring such fascinating traditional seasons as The Egg Moon, The Sap Moon, The Moon of Making Fat, and The Moon When Salmon Return to the Earth. Every passage is ripe with meaning, and I often found myself having to read entire chapters aloud to Will. Prentice believes we will become truly nourished when we can once again honor the Earth as our ancestors did; she believes in eating as seasonally and locally as possible. In doing so, we will come to appreciate every season’s bounty. Whether we are enjoying a goose egg in spring, or a bowl of creamy turnip soup in the winter, we will be fostering a more genuine and sustainable connection to nature. She urges us to shift our focus toward a smaller, community centered food system, where we grow a lot of our own produce, or purchase the bulk of it from local farmers’ markets. Prentice discusses the concept of a gift society, whereby everyone is mutually indebted to one another in a way that ends up fostering a sense of community. These are just a few of the main themes in the completely thought provoking Full Moon Feast.
As a strict vegetarian, I admit to being fascinated by all of the chapters on meat: how to render lard, how to clarify butter, how to boil bones to make a mineral rich heal-all broth. Prentice discusses the topic with honesty and respect. In her chapter about salmon, she mourns the plight of this majestic fish that used to start its life in shadowy hideaways along freshwater rivers, later moving to salty waters only to return by some preternatural knowledge to the same home base to spawn (a magical event in itself) and eventually die. Now, Prentice explains, so much of salmon is farmed that there is no “Moon When Salmon Return to the Earth.” Additionally, conditions on the farms are so crowded and unnatural that the salmon’s flesh becomes grey and must later be dyed to give the fish its characteristic healthy pink blush. In contrast, she shares a story of a culture that would catch only as much salmon that could feed its people for a particular season, share the rest with a neighboring people, and release the rest. The bones of the fish would be cast out to sea in the thought that they would then reassemble, and the fish would become human and return to its home. If the salmon were somehow offended, it was feared that the fish would not return the next season. Still, Prentice advocates eating meat, fish, and dairy as part of a diet that she sees as completely nourishing, traditional, and healthy. While that is clearly up for debate, I still appreciate her reverence for animals and can even begin to understand her thoughts on vegetarianism. Prentice had been a vegetarian herself for 10 years and had come to develop several health problems, which appeared to go away after adopting an omnivorous lifestyle. She supports her choices practically and spiritually, stating that ahimsa (non-harming to all living beings) is meant to be interpreted more figuratively than literally, as she believes it impossible to live without even accidentally causing harm to something. She also takes her argument a step further, suggesting that vegans specifically may be out of touch with the cycle of life, explaining that they may be afraid to face their own death in seeing death on their plates before them. She also states that animals are killed quite often even in organic farming—land must be cleared for crops, and pests must be dealt with somehow. She may be a bit misguided here, in that she seems to view all vegans as dogmatic in their approach to their lifestyle. Most vegetarians and vegans I know will willingly admit that they are not aiming for spiritual perfectionism or purity, but rather expressing their love for animals and the environment the best way they know how. She does bring up thoughtful points, though.
Well, before I give away the book entirely, I had better stop writing. It seems I’ve missed dinnertime and everyone is asleep early tonight. Let me know what you think if you do read it! We have been on many adventures lately, which I hope to write about soon. From sharing the beach with sun-kissed spring breakers, to a first time grilling experience at our nature reserve, to strawberry picking at an organic farm 30 minutes away, to a renaissance festival in the woods filled with jugglers and acrobats and plague doctors all in costume, my imagination is full and spinning me wonderfully colorful dreams.