I've never participated in National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo) outside of November before, but I'm finding myself with a lot on my mind these days, particularly with regard to how and what we eat, and the NaBloPoMo theme for the month of July just happens to be "food." Perfect! My friends and family can tell you it's pretty much all I'm talking about to them lately, anyway. There are a great number of topics that I am learning about and looking forward to learning about, and some I'm smack in the middle of experimenting with. If you have some suggestions (for my personal growth, not my blogging--I'm afraid the latter is a lost cause) that you don't see here, please leave a comment about it!
I'm doing my best to learn about where my family's food comes from and how it's raised, whether vegetable, grain, meat, or dairy. I've made some discoveries that shocked me, and might shock some of you, while others of you (especially gardeners) will wonder what took me so long to figure it out. I've had to fight a sense of, "Oh, you should have gotten started on this 20 years ago," which I've been able to do because of my daughter. Watching her learn along with me is truly amazing, and I'm floored by the openness and understanding she has of the natural process and our place, as humans, in the food chain and as stewards of the earth and its resources.
I can tell you right up front that there will be talk of meat, fish, poultry, and dairy, as well as vegetables and fruits and nuts and grains, because we're not vegetarians. I was once, for a while--I was a vegan, even--and I respect and honor that choice for anyone who makes it. If Bella were to decide she wanted to stop eating meat, I'd do my best to make sure she was properly nourished, however her little spirit guides her. Personally, the more I learn and the more I become responsible for what I consume, the more at peace I am with my place in the food chain. There's little doubt that primates evolved eating meat, or that our digestive systems, from start to finish, designate us as omnivores--that we're meant for a wide variety of foods, a little of everything. I also don't believe that we should kid ourselves that we can ever, omnivore, vegetarian, or vegan, be held blameless for the deaths of the fellow species with which we cohabit this planet. The harsh fact is, if you are eating--anything--you are killing animals. Produce farming is responsible for untold animal deaths, regardless of organic status, due to everything from loss of habitat to farming machinery to chemical toxicity. That's not a debate I'm interested in having, because I've made my choice for myself and only myself, and I'm not interested in changing anyone else's mind or having someone try and persuade me to change mine. I'm just letting my friends know that when I'll be discussing "slow food" this month, a lot of that discussion will involve the consumption of meat, dairy, and eggs. I treasure my ethical/religious vegetarian and vegan friends, and I don't want to alienate them. I also would never wish to make them uncomfortable or sad.
In particular, what we're trying to do here, our own little family, is to become more aware, more thoughtful, and more responsible for what we consume, both for our own health and for the health of the planet. I'm learning that those two concerns pretty much go hand in hand. I do believe that people should eat less meat (heck, less protein, period) than we do, on average. We should eat less sugar, drink more clean water, move around more, flow with the seasons instead of trying vainly to manipulate them.
We happen to be blessed with a little acreage--5 acres, to be exact. At this point in time, it isn't suitable for growing much traditional garden produce, being situated on a rocky hillside, but I hope to learn more about this little piece of land and what it's capable of, and perhaps plant and encourage what WILL grow here, rather than what I'd LIKE to grow here. There are a goodly number of wild plants and trees on this scraggly, seemingly barren hillside that are producing perfectly consumable food, if we will only study and learn what they are and how they're used. Foraging fascinates me, and it's something I very much want to know more about. I welcome any suggestions on the subject. What our property is suited for right now is the raising of certain food animals, some of which we're already raising and some of which I'm just kind of daydreaming about for the future: poultry, dairy goats, sheep. Pigs would do exceptionally well here, I think, but our family consumes very little pork, and it's not a healthy enough food to offer a compelling argument toward changing that. If pork were something we could barter, say, in exchange for a steady supply of fresh milk, well, that would be a consideration.
Ideally, we would eat an all-organic diet of foods that can be found near us, in season, as much as possible grown and raised ourselves, hunted and foraged, or purchased from like-minded independent farmers. It doesn't take long to see that that's just not going to be 100% possible all the time, and that we're going to have to make trade-offs in priorities from situation to situation. There are going to be situations in which "local" trumps "organic," and vice-versa. There is also, like it or not, cost to consider, and I think I've established myself as a frugal shopper.
For example, there are two huge, highly productive berry farms within a couple of miles of my home. Every spring, they're bursting with strawberries, which happen to be a fruit my family eats a lot of, mostly in daily blended smoothies (more about those later in the month). Unfortunately, both of those farms spray their crops with chemicals, and strawberries are among produce's "Dirty Dozen"--the crops which absorb more potentially harmful chemicals than any other. A pint-sized bag of frozen organic strawberries (you can't even buy them fresh in my local groceries) costs about three and a half dollars here. So what was happening with strawberries is that I was buying the organic ones for Bella, and Alex and I were blending up the cheaper and more readily available non-organic berries in our own smoothies. Seems kind of silly when you consider that the whole reason we make fruit and veggie smoothies is for...our health. But at least Bella was covered.
At the end--and I mean, the very, very end, as in the last day--of strawberry season, I was able to get all the strawberries I could afford from Hardin Farms, an organic local farm that is considerably farther from my home than the previously-mentioned berry farms. In this case, organic was more important than local. And the great thing is that I was able to purchase 32 quarts of beautiful, totally organic strawberries for about $1.54 per quart. I don't know about your area, but here, that's considerably less than you'd pay for a quart of trucked-in Mexican or Californian chemical-laden strawberries at, say, Wal*Mart. Those berries kept me hopping for most of the last weekend in May, getting them cleaned, capped, and frozen whole, one tray at a time, to be stored in freezer bags once frozen solid. It was a lot of work, and some trouble to find those berries, but I know I'll be so grateful when I'm able to toss a handful in the blender to make us all a vitamin-packed drink in the middle of January. I didn't even waste anything--the caps and the occasional mushy berry were all fed to the chickens. Riana would probably have used those hundreds of caps to distill an infusion that she'd then make into a year's supply of glossifying shampoo, or to brew a medicinal tea that cures flatulence (unless she figured out a way to power a gas stove or something with said flatulence), but I didn't have time to seek her knowledge on this particular weekend, so into the poultry garbage-disposals the scraps went.
There are some things that, at this point, I don't see us giving up, despite the fact that they're not in any way local: olive oil, orange juice, certain fruits that Bella loves, like bananas and pineapple...we may eventually come around to that point, though. This is, no pun intended, an organic process, and one that is continually evolving as we learn and shift our minds into a different gear. Must we have pineapple? Well, no. We only have it because we want it, and we can get it. There's nothing, nutritionally speaking, that we must have that can only come from that pineapple. My generation has grown up having access to, literally, the world, when it comes to food, and it really takes a heck of a wake-up call for most of us to realize the impact our choices have on that world.
Some choices seem a whole lot simpler than they really are. If you decide (and rightly so, in my opinion) that you will no longer support the cruelty and waste of industrial-farmed poultry, battery-produced eggs, feedlot beef and pork, and the industrial dairy industry, well, that's a pretty easy fix while doing your grocery shopping for home (actually, for dairy products, it really isn't, because even "organic" milk doesn't really come from happy cows, but we'll get into that later). It isn't so simple if you ever buy food from a restaurant, which most of us do, and it pretty much puts the kibosh on fast food altogether, not that that's a bad thing. Restaurants are a sticky wicket I'd like to discuss later this month, too. It's easy enough to say, "Well, I'll just always order vegetarian choices when dining out." That's fine and good, but it contributes to another problem--the transportation, often trans-continental, of out-of-season, heavily sprayed, genetically modified produce--while addressing the original one. We've gotten ourselves into a fine mess with modern food production and consumption.
In some cases, baby steps are enough for now, and this would especially be so if many people made those same steps. When I picked out orange juice last week, it took some time, as I scrutinized the labels of all the containers. Organic was out of the question--it wasn't even offered. Knowing that California and Florida are the nation's keystone orange producers, it seemed a straightforward choice. Florida isn't right next door, but it is, after all, a lot closer than California. Not so fast. Not only was there not a simple, ready supply of Florida orange juice at the chain store (I think the "Florida's Natural" brand was sold out that day) where I was shopping, but most brands were made with oranges from multiple sources, and most of those sources were places like Chile, Mexico, Brazil! That was one of those "shocking" things I mentioned earlier. I had no idea that oranges were shipped from all over the world to centrally-located processing centers which package the juice and then ship it out to parts near and far after that. Wow.
I've let this foreword stretch on for far too long already, but let me list some of the topics I'd like to get into this month, and ask you to please add to this list with anything you think of that fits in, and to PLEASE chime in when it's a topic with which you're familiar.
Fruit trees, bushes, or vines
Wild foraging (flowers, herbs, nuts, grains, vegetables, fruits, etc.)
Certified organic vs. non-certified but chemical-free
Locating sources of clean, wholesome food
Pasture-raised, grass-fed livestock (NO GRAIN-FED BEEF)
Hunting wild game for meat
Fresh eggs from pastured hens
Raising chickens and turkeys for meat and eggs
Organic and/or raw milk and cheese
Goat's milk vs. cow's milk; keeping dairy animals
Cheesemaking and cooking with whey (the byproduct of cheesemaking)
Culturing homemade yogurt, kefir (both dairy and water kefir), buttermilk
Square-Foot Gardening (for those of us who have no topsoil)
Local honey products and beekeeping
Finding optimal sources for non-local products (olive and other oils, grains, etc.)
Food preservation of all kinds (freezing, canning, drying, etc.)
Responsible restaurant meals
Government involvement in farming
Corporate, industrial monopolies in farming
Lack of crop diversity and how to combat it as a consumer
The fact that Monsanto sucks
How ironically appropriate that I composed this post over a meal of takeout Chinese food. The only thing I can say in my defense is that it was the first such meal we've had in over a month, which is a considerable improvement in responsible eating for this family.