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The Vessel

By Eric Schumiller, a Hazon CSA coordinator in Long Island

A little over a month ago, Leslie Buck passed away at his home in Long Island, not far from where I work. Born Laszlo Büch to a Ukranian Jewish family, nearly 50 years ago this survivor of Auschwitz and Buchenwald created what The New York Times called, “a pop-cultural totem” that was “as vivid an emblem of New York City as the Statue of Liberty.” I’m speaking, of course, of the Anthora coffee cup. If you’ve ever lived in New York, you know the one - it’s blue & white, with a Greek-style pattern, a drawing of an amphora (the Greek vase for which the cup, courtesy of Buck’s thick accent, was named), and the motto, “We Are Happy To Serve You.” For many New Yorkers, this simple cup can evoke Proustian memories of streets traveled, early work mornings, and Sunday dog walks.

In my years working with various CSA farmers, I’ve known some who’ve made a point of educating their customers that “real food” doesn’t always look pretty (although it sure tasted amazing!). And I’ve also met farmers who feel that even (or especially) organically-grown food can be both beautiful and delicious. In Pirkei Avot (4:27), Rabbi Meir famously states, “Al Tistakel BaKankan, Ela B’Ma SheYesh Bo - Do not look at the vessel, but what is inside it.” Sometimes, however, the vessel itself is a thing of beauty, especially when it’s a vivid reminder of what can be accomplished with a hard day’s work.

As Marge Piercy wrote, in her wonderful poem, “To Be of Use”: I want to be with people who submerge in the task, who go into the fields to harvest and work in a row and pass the bags along...The work of the world is common as mud. Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust. But the thing worth doing well done has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident. Greek amphoras for wine or oil, Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums but you know they were made to be used. The pitcher cries for water to carry and a person for work that is real.