Monday, August 24, 2009

Real Food, Real People

Back in the spring, I read the book Animal, Vegetable Mineral by Barbara Kingsolver, and was simultaneously inspired and disheartened. Inspired to eat and shop better for my family and our country, disheartened that I don't have the land nor the book deal to support a whole year of eating only locally.
Kingsolver and her family (her daughter and husband are co-authors) moved from Tucson, a city where her girls had known as home their entire lives, back to her husband's family farmland in Virginia. Soon after, they began an experiment of trying to live solely on food produced within a 100 mile radius, much of it from their own land.
What I liked about this book is that it seemed like an honest attempt to not only research and discuss the very real food and farming crises facing our nation, but also tried to do something about it.
I don't think I'm a food snob, and eat enough junk and fast food to prove it. However, I do care passionately about providing real, good food to my family when I can, and without depriving them of treats. After all, it's kind of my job.
I also think we are in desperate need of saving our country's small farms, if only to preserve the variety of foods they provide. So much food has been bred to travel well, rather than to taste good, unfortunately. Organic vs. unorganic arguments aside, I'm all for food that actually tastes like something. (I will admit, Kingsolver convinced me to start buying organic potatoes exclusively-- I hadn't really thought about how much pesticides this particular vegetable absorbs, given how it is right there IN the soil.) There is a real need to change the way we subsidize farmers so that they are rewarded for growing something other than corn and soybeans that become, in essence chemicals in the form of corn syrup and soybean oil, rather than real food.
I grew up eating produce that came from the orchard my great aunt and uncle owned, lived on, and worked their entire lives, as well as from the vegetable gardens my parents and grandparents maintained each summer. Nothing has ever tasted better to me than the corn my grandfather walked into a corn field to pick himself (he rolled the hot ears directly onto a stick of butter), the small, spicy onions I shook dirt from before dipping them in salt and crunched into until my eyes watered, or the purple black cherries we pulled by the handsful off of low hanging branches to fill cooler after cooler one rainy Fourth of July weekend. All of those food memories came from food that was grown by people I knew and loved, and I think those relationships made it taste that much better.
I don't think I'll be raising my turkeys or making my own cheese, as Kingsolver does, anytime soon. However, after our experiment with O's garden this year, I know that my children at least know that food is something that comes from the earth after you plant it and work with it over a period of time, not something that appears magically on the shelves of the grocery store. They have eaten dishes made from the vegetable and herb plants they helped me plant, water and harvest, and can recognize what those items look like on their plate. They may not have eaten all of what I've made, but they have real food memories of real food to start them on their own discoveries of what tastes best to them.
I could go on for pages and pages about my own homegrown food memories about the ways that it has impacted my family (for example, one of my cousins is currently growing hops on his wife's family farm). I'd love it if you would share one of your own in the comments.


mep said...

Sadly, I don't have loads of homegrown food memories, except that my aunt's family had a farm and we always used to buy our corn at her family's farm stand in the summer.

I would like to have a garden and be a better provider of good, real food to my family.

You, Kingsolver, and cake can be my inspiration!

Angie W said...

When I was very young, my mom and dad raised pigs. As kids, we named them all Jodi. After my mom. She wasn't terribly flattered.

And I remember getting chased out of our neighbor's strawberry patch.

Have you seen Food, Inc?