The Diet of Worms and Worm Bins
Unless you are a doctoral student in Theology studying to pass your comprehensive exams in late October, the Diet of Worms is probably not something you have thought much about lately. You may wonder why the Diet of Worms would be something a Theology student would wisely spend time contemplating in preparation for exams…unless you’re a fellow theology student and you are instead left wondering what the Diet of Worms has to do with worm bins.
You see, I’ve recently moved into a new home and I finally have a little extra space to try out a few ideas I’ve seen percolating here at Loyola’s Center for Urban Environmental Research and Policy. Our undergraduate students in the STEP: Food Systems course and our Urban Farm Fellows are big proponents of vermicomposting. This is basically where one uses worms to speed up the composting process–the worms eat left-over food wastes and what passes out the other end is allegedly some of the best, all-natural fertilizer to be found!
Perhaps the best part about vermicomposting is that it requires less space than regular composting, making it ideal for urban condos and apartments. With a few extra plastic bins lying around from after my move and a new, empty deck just sitting there, I felt as though I had no excuse but to start vermicomposting.
It is a little bit gross. Don’t get me wrong–I can totally handle it but I also know that not everyone finds the idea of a bin full of worms and rotting produce as cool as I do. What would my mother say? Will there be a stench? Will it attract other pests? Will the neighbors complain? When dinner guests find out why I’m saving their plate scraps, will they ever want to come back or will they think I’m just a “crazy” environmentalist who has finally gone off the deep end?
That’s where the Diet of Worms comes in to play. I’m not referring to the diet of the worms in my impending worm bin, but rather the Reformation era Diet of Worms, Germany. As my colleagues in Theology would quickly point out (and those of you with an excellent familiarity with Reformation history would too), a diet sometimes refers to a legislative or deliberative assembly or gathering while Worms can also refer to one of the oldest cities in Germany, as opposed to the creepy-crawlies that churn beneath the earth.
So the Diet of Worms I’ve been reviewing in preparation for my comprehensive exams is the assembly at which Martin Luther (a German priest and professor of theology) defended his work and critique of the corrupted Medieval system of selling indulgences or the purchase of Church pardons from sin. After a lengthy and exhausting defense with Luther knowing that his life was on the line against the Church’s charge of heresy before the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, Luther is said by some to have concluded:
“I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. Here I stand. I can do no other. May God help me. Amen.”
It is often argued that Luther never actually said, “Here I Stand. I can do no other.” Still, that phrase has come to to represent the resolve of a person standing up for one’s convictions–the dedication to an ideal one believes is right and just and the refusal to stand down no matter the consequences. Whatever can be said of Luther’s theology or of the Reformation for which he is considered responsible, I think it safe to say that Luther’s character and story inspires courage to boldly do what one thinks is right regardless of what others think about it.
That is an apt message for one weighing the social discomfort around ideas of a bin full of worms and rotting produce on the one hand and ideas of transforming scraps of waste (that would have otherwise entered a landfill) into valuable worm castings that will then be used to nourish a small organic herb and vegetable garden on my deck next spring.
As an emerging ecological ethicist I am well aware that I can’t live a perfect eco-friendly life–a life with no impact at all on the planet I love so much. Even the No-Impact Man Colin Beavin recognizes, after a year of famously trying to live without any impact whatsoever, that there is only so much one person can do alone…and at the same time, there is still so much one person can do. Recognizing, respecting and learning to stretch our own and our society’s limits in light of planetary ecological limits is one challenge at hand. Starting a worm bin isn’t going to save the planet, but it is something I know I can do today that reflects my respect for the planet’s ecological limits even if the idea of worms and rotting produce stretches some of my friends and family a little outside their comfort zones.
And so I find it quite fitting that Martin Luther’s refrain came to mind when I glanced down at those recently emptied plastic bins, not really wanting to turn them into vermicompost bins but knowing that I ought to do so–knowing that my conscience was right and that if my mother asked why on earth I would do such a thing, my response might begin, “Here I stand. I can do no other.”