Philanthropy has become a loaded word, a lofty ideal for wealthy people. Yet in its simplest definition it is the love of humankind and the desire to contribute to the health and vitality of humankind. Being philanthropic is merely aligning your intentions with action. It’s becoming involved, being thoughtful, engaging with your neighbors and participating in civic dialogue. You are a philanthropist if you are a member of the art museum, or if you buy your vegetables at the farmers market. When I worked at the Community Foundation I met a man who would occasionally leave a $100 tip on a $5 sandwich because he would learn that his waitress was putting herself through school. For the majority of us, this is the kind of philanthropy we can manage, promoting the welfare of humans one person at a time. Philanthropy is being mindful of the singular act that tugs on the entire web of humanity. If you act with compassion and intellect to take action and make the community a better place, you are an everyday philanthropist. And in being such a person, I believe there are commitments to be made.
For me, 2010 will be about honoring the land and the creatures that provide us with food. Inspired by Michael Pollen’s Omnivore’s Dilemma and Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, my intention is to eat local, seasonal food as much as possible, with a de-emphasis on meat. Although the thought of going vegetarian has occurred to me many times throughout my life, I can’t seem to give up a nice medium-rare steak. This is the year however, that I might be pushed over the edge. I have a new son, and whether it’s the hormones still circulating or the way his eyes resemble a tiny bunny or lamb or calf, I’m having a really hard time stomaching the thought that this flesh I am eating was a baby to another female creature on the planet. So I say de-emphasis, which to me resembles a bridge to get me out over the water. I will be researching local farms for humanely raised and butchered animals as an alternative, yet I realize that if this becomes a philosophical shift for me, how they were butchered may not matter so much.
So the commitment to eat local, seasonal food provides the foundation for my philanthropy this year. I look forward to seeing what other philanthropic interests this will awaken: preservation of farmland, feeding the hungry, community gardens, childhood obesity … endless possibilities.