My 25 year old copy of Brewer’s Concise Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (Cassell Publishers, London, 1992), adds a moral dimension with the following:
To live from hand to mouth. Improvidently, without thought for the morrow. The phrase implies the ready consumption of whatever one gets.
I can’t find a reliable source for the phrase (suggestions welcome), but with or without the whiff of moral censure, the term is positively dripping with negative connotations.
Without diminishing the very real suffering of millions of people who are doing it tough and barely surviving in a world of increasing inequality; for a gardener, living hand to mouth can mean something positive — a celebration of the fruits of our labour.
Yet the ability to cultivate a garden is beyond the reach of many, if not most, people. Access to land, tools, seeds — even water — is limited. And those who most need that regular, if small, supply of fresh food, are those most denied it.
So as I give thanks for my handful of figs, and for the beetroot, brassicas, herbs and citrus fruit to come, I also want to acknowledge the efforts of countless individuals and organisations working across the world, in a multitude of innovative ways, to grow and/or distribute fresh food within their communities.
Here are just a few of the initiatives I am aware of in my small part of the world. If you know of such groups in your community, please tell me about them in the comments, or post a link to their websites.
Community Fruit Harvesting. Auckland-based, but increasingly working across NZ to collect surplus and unwanted produce, and distribute — either fresh or as preserves — to charities.
Garden to Table. A New Zealand-wide programme that works with schools to create gardens and teach children to grow, harvest and prepare fresh produce.
Compost Collective. Auckland initiative to reduce organic landfill waste through composting, has become involved with a number of gardening initiatives.