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le Food, Feast &FaTllab 2011

Come to the Table: Gather ‘Round


t is the most primal of prayers: May we have food, and someone with whom to share it. Food for our bodies; love for our hearts.

When we first imagined this issue of CONSP!RE, we wanted food to do here what it does elsewhere—gather us together. To bring us to table and feast, to land, fruit, and fellowship. Is this not, in some way, the entire Gospel, embodied—abundance and celebration, shared in a living, boundary-busting community? Scripture is the story of food, land, and harvest, written about a community of farmers in a survival culture. It is packed with tales of gardens, fruitfulness and famine, fasting and feast, and who eats with whom. It speaks across time to the land of Costco, Target, and McDonald’s of a different vision, a new earth. It speaks to those of us who have never known hunger as a shadow at the door, and those of us who have. The premise of this issue is straightforward: that the food system is broken, and each of us is capable of taking small, revolutionary acts to heal it. Each time we eat, we have the chance to choose life: to build community and to eat food produced in a way that sustains our land and those who work upon it. Every day, we have the chance to express the essential holiness of the meal. Each time we fast, we can re-imagine a distribution system in which all are fed, and none are hungry. There are many choices to make, and all lead toward redemption. Though much greed and exploitation of both human and land underlies our food system, these pages are not laden with guilt. Instead, these are stories which whisper encouragement: we can each, every one of us, do something. We can find a pot, plant a seed, add a few extra chairs to the table. If we cannot afford all local and organic, we can begin with some small gesture; or smile into the eyes of some worker of the earth. We can choose not to waste, reclaiming the food and by-products our industrial agriculture system kicks out. We can cook our own food, maybe from scratch, feeding our senses with color and savory fragrances. We can share food together. We can slow our lives. As we eat together, we will talk. Soon we will be plotting goodness together. And mysteriously, the kingdom will come.

–the editors

During November, CONSPIRE is organizing countless tables across the land to share food and celebrate community. To join one these “Gather ‘Round” parties, visit See page 6 for details. 7

Why We Eat Together Jonathan Wilson-Hargrove


od’s people have been eating together for centuries. At the beginning of our story, God plants a garden full of fruit-bearing trees and invites us to come and eat. When God comes to Abraham and Sarah as three visitors, they have a meal together. In the early church, the sisters and brothers “devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” One of Jesus’ favorite images of heaven is a wedding banquet—a huge dinner party—where God’s people kick back and enjoy a feast. To remind us of what God’s love looks like in the world, Jesus gave us a meal—bread to be his body and wine as his lifeblood, poured out for friends and enemies alike. Eating together, it seems, is what we are made for. If we want to understand what it means to join God’s movement in the world today, there’s no better place to begin than by asking why God’s people eat together. It is, after all, a peculiar commitment in a time when even nuclear families rarely sit down to a common meal. As participants in a consumer culture, we bounce between ads that appeal to our personal appetites and diets that promise a healthier version of “me” if I stick to an individualized eating plan. Our food choices are almost always about “me,” 8

not “we.” We eat as individual consumers, not members of a body. It’s Tuesday night. My wife and I are cooks for our neighborhood potluck, making lasagna for thirty. I can’t cook without thinking of those who will eat: Tom is deathly allergic to olives, so I pour canola oil into the pan; Sarah, Dan, and Matt are vegetarian, so I replace the traditional beef with tofu. These friends will be with us when we eat, but they are here even now as we prepare the food. Our life is tied up with theirs whether I remember them or not. What is more, it’s winter. Though

Untitled Haitian Dinner Scene by Eric, acrylic on canvas

we sometimes have kale and chard in our garden through January, the onions and mushrooms and red bell peppers I am chopping racked up frequent flyer miles before they ever made it to the produce shelf. The truth is, I’m not sure where these particular vegetables came from or how many hands worked long hours for little pay to bring them to my kitchen. What I do know is that a meal for thirty, “homemade” in my kitchen, connects me to countless other people and places, animals and plants. Our connections go all the way down to the dirt. This meal is not possible without the gift of good soil, yet most of us spend precious little time paying attention to soil. Five hundred years ago, at the dawn of the modern world, Leonardo da Vinci commented

that “We know more about the movement of celestial bodies than we do about the soil underfoot.” Attention, however, is not a habit we cultivate in modern life; even less in eating. Distraction is the fuel of our consumer culture, propelling us constantly forward to the next thing we are told we need. And eating is our most basic form of consumption. We really do need to eat, though not as often or much as most of us do. But to eat without attention is to reduce eating to the consumption of products. It is to believe in practice what farmer-poet Wendell Berry has called “the myth that money brings forth food.” While a constant stream of ads for new food products may convince us that there is an endless supply, ultimately, food depends on good soil. An 9

economy that has not attended to its ecology cannot fit soil into its economic equations, even when our life depends on it. In Out of the Earth, soil conservationist Daniel Hillel describes how dirt is “a self-regulating biological factory, utilizing its own materials, water, and energy from the sun.” Quite apart from human ingenuity, soil offers us a model of sustainability, honoring the needs of all its members and keeping a rhythm that works for the whole. To know the soil as our source is to learn its wisdom and to honor its gift. We see in daily life why ecology and economy share the same root in the Greek word for home. We are never at home in the gift of God’s creation until we reconcile our economic activity to the soil that is the basis of every ecosystem. We cannot eat well without learning the sort of membership that is manifest in the mystery of soil. But just as we are in the habit of eating without attention to soil, we are well practiced in eating apart from true life in God. Writing to the Christians at Corinth in first century Greece, the apostle Paul said, “I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you . . . When you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, for as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anyone else. One remains hungry, another gets drunk” (1 Cor. 11:18–21). The fragmentation of a social system where some have too much while others have too little is not just a “social problem” or a “justice issue” for Paul. It is, rather, a denial of the Lord’s Supper— a refusal of God’s invitation in Jesus for us to eat the bread that satisfies and become the body that does not merely sustain life, but is life for the world. 10

“To be reconciled to one another is to be able to gather around a table with each other without shame, celebrating the gifts to each other that we are,” writes contemporary theologian Norman Wirzba in his book Food and Faith. “It is to commit to an economy and politics in which the care of each other is our all-consuming desire.” When Christians eat together, we eat toward this vision, even though this reconciling love is never fully realized in our fellowship. As I cover the lasagnas and carry them to our community potluck, I know there are easier, more efficient ways to get the calories I need. But we’ve gone to the trouble to make this particular dinner for roughly the same reason we make an effort to eat with these particular people—because it seems more in keeping with the sort of community we are made for, even if it costs more time and money, even if it forces us to deal with people we’d sometimes rather avoid. One of the things we learn to name by eating together is that we are creatures inextricably connected in a membership called creation. Tonight, when we see one another across the table, earth creatures who are sustained by the gifts of soil and one another, there will be a moment when our eyes glimpse the potential of a peace beyond our making. Every once in a while, there is a still point when we’re passing the asparagus and laughing at a bad joke. We look up from our plates and see the image of God. And suddenly we know this is why we eat together. This 1983 painting on page 9 is by a Haitian artist known only as Eric. It uses the scene of a family meal to echo the Last Supper, with its twelve people and a table set with bread and cups.


Food, Faith, and Future

Mike Morrell

he food story in which we find ourselves is framed pro-

vocatively by Raj Patel, an Indian scholar of food and and consumerism— our planet is simultaneously stuffed and starved. Deadly mass hunger (euphemistically called “food insecurity” by policy types) is threatening a billion of us. Chronic obesity (caused by affluence and an abundance of cheaply-available faux foods) is threatening the health of an additional billion. What’s a follower of Jesus to do? I’m interested in what futurists call weak signals of change. What is faint at one moment (like a faint odor of natural gas) can become positively explosive the next. What are the vanguards of society doing that we might all be doing in a generation, if certain catalytic conditions are present, and we act on them? I surveyed one hundred faith-based intentional communities: house churches, new monastic communities, Catholic Worker houses, and communal houses that have been going strong since the Jesus Movement 1970s. Nearly one-third responded. What I found was deeply encouraging. Two-thirds of the communities eat meals together regularly. Three-quarters of them garden as a community. Most also have relationships with local farms, either through farmers’ markets or community-supported agriculture (CSAs), in which individuals buy “shares” of produce from local farms. Half of the communities also take advantage of food free-cycling, taking otherwise-discarded, unsellable foods donated from local grocery stores—or dumpster-diving when that doesn’t work! Many of these communities are beginning to connect their practice of communion with their dedication to sustainable food, opening their tables to all and celebrating with a full meal, as it was in the original generation of Jesus’ apprentices. Most hope to become even more comprehensive in their pursuit of the healing of our land and food systems. They also want to tie their food policy to their expressions of worship and spiritual formation more closely. I’m betting that what these communities do today, more apprentices of Jesus will do tomorrow. We are reshaping our food story. Maybe we can teach the entire planet a better way, beating our swords of wartime-derived, petro-chemical fertilizers and industrialized agriculture into the plowshares of a distributed, generative network of local and regional food abundance. On the next pages are some of these testimonies from communities who are transforming their relationship to food and land. For all the stories, and lots more inspiration for plotting goodness, go to 25

Stories from

When we asked dozens of communities about their life with food, they share lots of stories. Here are some highlights. See our website for contributors and their complete comments.

We are three families under one suburban roof. We have two large raised beds and eleven fruit trees—the only garden in the entire neighborhood. We’re looking to turn our front median into a neighborhood garden next growing season, putting the veggies out in a bushel basket for people to take. It isn’t about physical hunger, but the hunger we sense for community here in the isolated suburbs.

We grow a large garden and have beef, cattle, and chickens. Our animals live on pasture and have a good life, we hope, prior to nourishing us. We process the birds ourselves and use a local, trusted butcher for the cattle. Around here, if you leave your truck doors unlocked (we all do), you may find a bushel of beans or a bag of squash in the seat.

Cooking for people is a part of how I pray for them. As I add healthy ingredients I pray for their strength to be renewed. As I add rich and creamy things, I pray for God’s comfort to surround them. As I add sweet extras, I pray for encouragement. We advocate for the poor to gain access to good food in the neighborhood—pioneering an urban farm and planting three urban orchards here. Hopefully kids can have fruit from a tree instead of red-hot cheetos for breakfast.

We have a garden by our church office. People come for food vouchers, and it’s cool to say “Sure, here’s some vouchers. And do you like tomatoes or green beans? We have some growing right here.” We had a winter community-supported agriculture (CSA) tied in with the liturgical year, Advent to Easter. Shareholders received bi-weekly of shares of food we processed the previous summer with a leaflet with stories, recipes, reading, prayers, poems, and artwork.

We pick up free food from a willing, local grocery store, and

compost the rotten produce, keeping hundreds of pounds of biodegradable food out of the dump. We store the edible food and open the doors. Women, children, and men of all ethnicities gather to get a bag of groceries. We know them all by name, and their gratitude for the free, healthy food is tangible.

At our biweekly gatherings, we create themed meals, like “rainbow,” when each family brings food with a rainbow element. The host provides the main dish; others bring delish sides. Growing our own food is a statement about slowing our lives down to attend to how much we use and waste. It reconnects us with the ground that offers so much to us. Food opens the space for strangers to become friends.


the Ground Around Thanksgiving, we host a meal in which we tell our “immigration stories”—how our families came to the United States, or came to live in this neighborhood. Every year we hear both familiar and new stories. It’s the best meal we share all year long.

Our church worships monthly, and food is always part of the celebration. We have people across the board socio-economically, and many haven’t come into contact with certain foods. I discovered that our local grocery stores were selling fiddleheads (fern leaves that have not unfurled); a very popular dish here in New England. They were an instant hit, but the best compliment came from a rougharound-the-edges guy early in his recovery: “These fiddleheads are f’ing awesome.”

Some of us believe that a big collapse is soon to come, when there is way less oil, and food will be harder to find and more expensive. We’re honing skills, trying to be prepared to grow our own. We eat together on Friday, opening the meal to everyone. Our efforts to bring people together across race, class, and educational lines over food go better when we have a topic and use a talking stick to allow everyone a time to share.

We combined the Lord’s Supper with our monthly potluck. Tables gathered around a conversation about serving Christ, sharing memories about what God had done. It was very Seder-esque and used large portions of bread and grape juice. Our home group did a roleplay of Luke 10 in the style of a murder

mystery meal!

Ten volunteers in eight vehicles roam the city collecting donations from health-food stores. Collectors can glean some food for personal use, but 95 percent is available for food-sharing programs. Three-quarters of the total food (two thousand pounds/week) goes to Free Grocery Stores, so the food we glean from the health food stores is distributed to the community within a few hours.

We have a greenhouse arm called Growing Awareness Urban Farm. We sell about ten thousand plants each spring, but also give many away, encouraging people to become more food independent by growing their own vegetables and fruits. Our prayers include

our standard mantra: “Food is God’s Love Made Edible.” Read lots more stories and who’s sharing them at 27

Andrea Ferich

I want to tell you stories from our urban garden, a green place in an abandoned industrial wasteland. They are stories about fertility in a world of sterility, which is our story here in this corner of Camden. At our greenhouse we raise chickens. A group of children from the neighborhood are called the Chicken Cowboys. Together, they keep and tend their small herd of grazing, egg-laying hens. They love feeding the hens, gathering the eggs, proudly guiding visitors through their chicken coop. We gather six eggs a day, filling reused cartons. “Do you want to take these eggs home?” I ask. “Noooooo! We only eat eggs from the store.” We are doing collages. One fourth-grader flips through the pages of National Geographic to find images that caught her attention, opening to a photo of an African woman, topless and nursing her child. This primal image of food as true communion, connection, nutrition, and nurture repulsed her. To her the mother was poor and dirty, like a chicken laying eggs: “Aw, look at how poor she is.” The spring garden is heavy with huge heads of red tide lettuces, mesclun mixes, and arugula. “I only eat salad from McDonalds,” from the 38

raised hand of a sixth grader. “I don’t like knowing where my food comes from.” She speaks for most of us in this industrial agriculture system. Chicken cowboys, students, young girls share the refrain. “It’s better from the store.” In the store, everything is wrapped in nice, clean packages. Open, eat, dispose. But our food actually comes from enfleshed places and bodies, animals that poop and kick out eggs, women’s warm skin, worm-laced soil. The obsession with packaged food obscures any perceptions of where our food comes from, and any communion with our earth. What happens within such a culture? Our penchant for “clean food’ is making us sick. A report on National Public Radio suggests that diseases now on the rise, such as Celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, and diverticulitis are connected with the loss of almost all the “parasites” in our system. Stomachs are basically composters, but we’ve stripped them of beneficial organisms.

This culture is one of bulimic consumerism. Forty percent of all household trash is compostable. Most of this is food. An additional one quarter of household waste is food packaging. Two out of three garbage trucks you see driving by would be unnecessary with composting and reduced, biodegradable packaging. Recycling has a carbon footprint. Diesel trucks are still carrying our recyclables “away” to engines that sort, chomp, jibble, crush, stack, and process waste into the next product shipped to store and consumer. I recently went down to the recycling facility to ask for a cardboard donation. “Hi, I’m Andrea. I’ve been bringing you my cardboard for about eight years now, and I’ve worked hard telling everybody to give you their cardboard as well. I’d like a donation of cardboard to help build some new gardens around the city.” “I’m sorry, I can’t give you cardboard.” Him. “That’s OK, I’ll buy it.” Me, supporting the local economy. “I only sell it by the ton.” Him. “Perfect.” Me. “One hundred fifty-seven dollars a ton.” Him. “I’d like to buy one ton of cardboard.” Me. “I only take checks.” Him. “Great.” Me. “We only sell our cardboard to China. It’s shipped to a paper mill there.” Food packaging is made of petroleum chemicals, filling our landfills and our bodies, making us sick and sterile. We now farm with chemicals which were developed for warfare, and that war has come home to our bodies. A farmworker in the fields in California has an almost 70 percent greater risk of developing leukemia or cervical, uterine, and stomach cancer. Agrochemicals attach themselves to estrogen receptors in cells and mimic the body’s natural estrogen, causing male sterility and miscarriages. One summer day, I walked the beach with a friend, talking about everything going on in Camden. “That’s amazing,” she said. “Pretty soon people won’t be littering in Camden.” We approached our friend Robin, looking out

far into the sea. The tide was rising. “Andrea, I picked up six garbage bags of trash from here to the pier.” I looked up the beach at the dozen blocks separating us from the pier. I watched family after family pick up their chairs to move from the approaching water, leaving trash behind them as though they were at a movie theater or baseball stadium. These plastics are made of the wars fought over oil; and they foretell wars for food and water yet to come. One truth all farmers live by: Use what you have. Recycle as a last resort, but aim to re-use, up-cycle, and re-purpose. One of the best examples of community-based sustainable development through up-cycling design is found near the edge of Colombia’s Amazon rainforest, home of the Gaviotas community ( The two-hundred person community began by planting hundreds of trees. These trees recharged their aquifer, and they then began a bottled-water business, using waste-stream bio-plastics as packaging and harvesting water at a sustainable rate. The waterbottles interlock, like legos. When empty, they can be filled with sand and covered with natural plaster, forming strong bricks. Empty bottles are not waste, but a resource. It will not take huge numbers of committed people to tip the scale and reimagine our food and packaging. See-saw physics and observation verify that a critical mass, capable of tipping the public consciousness, comes somewhere between 17 and 30 percent. That’s less than one out of three people that walk by. The chicken cowboys walk with their mothers on Saturdays picking up cans in the vacant lots around the neighborhood, selling each one for coins, saving all their money. They walk down the street scanning pavement for the next bright coin. Streets of gold. After tasting them, the chicken cowboys love our eggs. Excite people for food. Make local sustainable agriculture the backbone of a local living economy. Transform your problems into resources. Come and taste the eggs. 39

News from our Conspiring Communities

In celebration of this fall edition of “Food, Feast, and Table,” coconspirators all over the country are hosting nights to “Gather ‘Round.” These special nights embrace the sacredness and joy of the dinner table, inviting others into our homes and places of gathering to share abundance and plot goodness. Between November 1 and December 1, you can join a celebration near you, or host your own “best supper.” We’ll provide some extra CONSP!REs and lots of ideas for the evening. Go to for details. Church of the Sojourners (San Francisco, CA): Inspired by the original AA group (which called itself the “Drunk Squad” of the Oxford Christian movement), we’re beginning a year of twelve-step work. We’re hoping to make progress in our healing as individuals and as a community ( Dathouse (Indianapolis, IN): School is back in session and we are excited to start connecting with some of the kids in our neighborhood. We welcomed a few new members into our community including our friend, Becca, and some chickens! We’re still working on our housing project and are excited for the Christian Community Development Association to come to Indy in October ( Coconspirators in Jefferson City, Tennessee gathered at midnight on the eve of 9-11 for prayer. We made color-coded crosses, each representing 500 deaths and linked to groups (9/11 victims, U.S. troops, contractors, Afghan troops, Iraqi troops, civilians). DC Area Community of Communities (Washington, DC): Cornerstone said goodbye to Brian as he moved into the Quebec House, and new volunteer programs are starting up. Crosses on lawn of Carson- Discipleship Year ( is still looking for particiNewman college pants for its volunteer year. Participants live in community and in Jefferson, Tenn. work for a Church of the Saviour ministry. Contact Dawn for more info. The DC Area will be hosting a School for Conversion this winter. Contact Brian for more information (


Pictured above, from left to right: Mercy Station construction in Haiti, Psalters performing at Jesus Bombs and Ice Cream for The Simple Way, DC Area Community of Communities at the Wild Goose festival.

First United Presbyterian Church of Crafton Heights (Pittsburgh, PA): Our youth outreach group received funding to begin a daily afterschool program for our neighbors, including academics, enrichment, and mentoring! We welcome the opportunity to work with our friends at the Pittsburgh Urban Leadership Experience, an intentional community of young adults in Pittsburgh’s East End ( Georgetown College Campus Ministry (Georgetown, KY): We’ve helped to launch Allelon Community Garden, a community-building project of Faith Baptist Church. Allelon is Greek for “one another.” Allelon has raised and given away over 130 pounds of organic produce to low-income residents in our county (www.wordpress. Hyaets Community (Charlotte, NC): We are celebrating a bounty of tomatoes, okra, peppers, greens, and eggs. We are also working toward the purchase of the property between our two houses, excited about the potential for our community and for our neighbors ( More Than Thursdays (Oakland, CA): We hosted a book signing for local preacher and activist Harry Williams, whose latest book, Straight Outta East Oakland 2, deals with human trafficking and prostitution. Nonprofit workers, local residents, and the mayor of Oakland attended. Our success has encouraged us to pursue more community collaboration ( Mercy Station (Anderson, AL): The summer garden is harvested; fall crops are coming in. Calving season will soon be upon us. In February 2012, we are planning a trip to Fonddes-Blancs, Haiti to help build a new school. Fellow travelers (and laborers) are invited. We are participating in “Give an Undocumented Immigrant a Ride” to stand against Alabama HB 56. New baby due October 3! Mulberry House (Springfield, OH): Farewell to Mikal, who recently left the house to be joined with his wife Leah. They are still in the neighborhood, so we look forward to continuing in community! (

House built with tornado victims in Hillsboro, Alabama by Mercy Station.

Nehemiah House (Springfield, MA): Quite the summer here in Springfield: God’s power displayed in tornadoes, hurricanes and earthquakes! We had some wonderful visitors from Norway named Solfried and Camilla, a young man from Chicago named Dion, and a work team that stayed with us while visiting to clean up our storm-ransacked city.  All these people blessed us ( ReIMAGINE! (San Francisco, CA): Our community is focusing on the words of Jesus concerning money, possessions, and worry. We are taking a new challenge each week in attempt to live in Jesus’ way of abundance, generosity, and sharing with the poor. How can we transform our hearts and actions in the currencies of our lives? ( ). Relational Tithe (Oakland, CA): We were excited to be at Wild Goose Festival earlier this summer.  What a great opportunity to see many faces of Relational Tithe and to meet a lot of new folks!  Relational Tithe also is proud to be a part of Soularize in San Diego. We have contracted and volunteer opportunities for tech savvy individuals and companies. Contact ( 47

San Rafael First UMC (San Rafael, CA): Inspired by the Friends Across Borders project with Afghan youth (see YouTube), we too have focused on Blue Sky, One God, One Peace for our worship service of remembrance. At our peace march everyone wore the blue scarves we’d made, and both our long-term English ministry and the ministry of immigrant Fijians participated. Joining in spirit with Afghan youth was a joyful balance to the sad memories of 9-11. We are so tired of war! (www. The GAPS Community (Downey, CA): David & Christie Melby-Gibbons (also known as “Dust Of The Saints”) released their new album back in May called “Short Shorts.” If you’d like a copy of the CD, for a donation amount of your choosing, email us at ( The Simple Way (Philadelphia, PA): We distributed school supplies to five hundred neighborhood kids and helped organize “Jesus, Bombs, & Ice Cream,” a circus for peace held on the eve of the 10th anniversary of 9-11. Hosted by Shane Claiborne and Ben Cohen of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream, it featured everything from painting, juggling, and welding, to performances by the Psalters, with anti-war talks sprinkled in for good measure ( School supply distribution at The Simple Way

More conspiring communities: Alterna (LaGrange, GA) Alternative Seminary (Philadelphia, PA) Anthony’s Plot (Winston-Salem, NC) Camden Community Houses (Camden, NJ) Caritas Village (Memphis, TN) Carpenter’s Church (Lubbock, TX) Centurion’s Guild (Honolulu, HI) Chicago Catholic Worker (Chicago, IL) Conspiring for Coatesville (Coatesville, PA) Coral House Community (Lake Worth, FL) Detroit Villages/Ailanthus (Detroit, MI) East Central Ministries (Albuquerque, NM) Incarnation Station (Kansas City, KS) JustUs, (Sioux Lookout, Ont.) Maitland Baptist Church (Rutherford, Australia) New Providence Community Church (Nassau, Bahamas) Reba Place/Shalom Mission Communities (Evanston, IL) Rutba House/School for Conversion (Durham, NC) Sacramento Conspirators (Sacramento, CA) Servants Vancouver (Vancouver, BC) Solomon’s Porch (Minneapolis, MN) The Book Parlor (Spokane, WA) The Vine (Haverhill, MA) Third Street House (Lexington, KY) Tierra Nueva (Skagit Valley, WA)



PO Box 14668 Philadelphia, PA 19134

Conspire Issue #11 Food, Feast & Table  

Fall 2011. We want our readers to leave this issue empowered to take deeper steps toward living the rich, simple life near the earth.

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