This time of year, as fall moves toward winter and we celebrate holidays, I hear a lot about gratitude….I get curious about what gratitude means to other people. And what role does gratitude play in our lives, in our homes, and on our plates?

As a parent, I wish to instill in my children a sense of wonder for the world and a deep feeling of gratitude for that which sustains them through periods of misfortune, grief, sadness, or loss. In fact, I consider a gratitude practice one of the pillars of resilience. In my own life, I hope to live the adage that “happiness is not getting what you want, it is wanting what you have.” True, and so simple, yet so difficult.

I find, in general, our cultural focus on gratitude is especially hard these days. Flashy colors lure us towards things that we might covet, and advertising firms grotesquely use psychological research to manipulate our basic brain wiring to want more. As a result, we constantly pursue acquisition of material wealth to the point of destroying our earth

Where does this consumerism get us individually? Where does this lead us culturally? Inevitably, things we buy end up at a yard sale, in the landfill, or otherwise relegated to the back of the closet or garage in the pursuit of newer, flashier items.

Looking out at the skyline of factories spitting black smoke in the sky, I marvel at the disconnect we have. What we unequivocally need is taken for granted, recklessly used, abused, and discarded. We frantically chase the “high” in our constant pursuit of “happiness.” As pivotal as food is to our existence, we waste 40% of the food we produce. Thus, managing food volumes becomes a vital component of the value we place on it.

If we are grateful for good food, do we work hard to purchase directly from those whose practices we admire? If we are grateful for clean air to breath or the soil under our feet, do we take a moment to think about whether the choices we make will support the earth we want to live on?

Being grateful for things in our lives, our health, our families, our homes, food, etc is easy. But how does our gratitude translate into every day actions?

This time of year that focuses heavily on gratitude, is concurrently a time that focuses heavily on consumerism. We can be grateful for the things we have that give us a higher standard of living. Simultaneously, we can acknowledge that these “things” are the quickest path towards an earth that cannot sustain itself.

Gratitude isn’t about getting that thing, but about appreciating what is all around us. Air, the moon, the stars, the soil under our feet, the smile on a stranger’s face. All these things that are the essence of life. Sometimes, our gratitude must go beyond saying “thank you,” and be put into an action to protect and preserve what we value the most. Where are our greatest opportunities on a daily basis to support what we wish to see?

One area where we can each reflect on the gratitude and responsibility we have towards this earth is in what foods we choose. This is a daily, tangible choice that builds exponentially and literally shapes our world and our ability to live within in it. How are our foods produced? How do those foods get from the field to our tables? And who prepares them for dining?

Gratitude is a feeling, it is a feeling that calls for change–sometimes dramatic change. Sometimes it requires effort–or a rethinking of our daily lives. And sometimes a gratitude is a simple acknowledgement of something that we like but we won’t move further on.

How can we encourage each other to participate in a world that works for us all?

A place with clean air to breathe, healthy soils supporting healthy forests, a plastic-free ocean, a climate that doesn’t drown us in floods or burn us in fires.

Sourcing food from a farmer working to heal the land, heal the soil, and heal the community is a small step. It is a small step, but one that makes all the difference to them, to ourselves, and to the world we live in. And it is a step we can easily take in the right direction every day.

What are you grateful for this season, and what do you do to express that? Please share.