When you have an idea, do everything you can to create an environment that inspires that idea.
I have to give credit where credit is due, first of all. I was initially inspired to look around the corner for food by a dear friend who said something so simple that I don’t think he even realizes it was as impactful as it is: “It will change your spirit.” If you know me at all, you know how very fond I am of my spirit. I have learned that it is a fragile, beautiful thing, something that sustains no matter what it is up against. ”Always attacked, but never destroyed,” as John Steinbeck puts it in East of Eden. So, a little idea to change my spirit has created a wild fire in me, somehow. I can’t wait to bring you all along for the journey.
I want to eat local produce. I want to learn where food comes from. I want to understand reality. I want to stop giving my money to a system that ships food from other places and that is, at the end of the day, so bad for the place I love: the Earth.
So, to further feed this fire in me, I cracked open a book I came upon about a year and a half ago. I found it, of all places, at Red Robin where I work. Someone had left it at a table and never came back for it. My coworker told me to take it home because he thought it was my book, anyway. It’s been acquiring cobwebs in my bookcase for far too long.
“Most people of my grandparents’ generation had an intuitive sense of agricultural basics: when various fruits and vegetables come into season, which ones keep through the winter, how to preserve the others. On what day autumn’s first frost will likely fall on their county, and when to expect the last one in spring. Which crops can be planted before the last frost, and which must wait. Which grains are autumn-planted. What an asparagus patch looks like in August. Most importantly: what animals and vegetables thrive in one’s immediate region and how to live well on those, with little else thrown into the mix beyond a bag of flour, a pinch of salt, and a handful of coffee. Few people of my generation, and approximately none of our children, could answer any of those questions, let alone all. This knowledge has vanished from our culture.”
“It’s good enough for us that somebody, somewhere, knows food production well enough to serve the rest of us with all we need to eat, each day of our lives. If that is true, why isn’t it good enough for someone else to know multiplication and the contents of the Bill of Rights? Is the story of bread, from tilled ground to our table, less relevant to our lives than the history of the thirteen colonies? Couldn’t one make a case for the relevance of a subject that informs choices we make daily—as in, What’s for dinner? Isn’t ignorance of our food sources causing problems as diverse as over-dependence on petroleum, and an epidemic of diet-related diseases?”
“Knowing how foods grow is to know how and when to look for them; such expertise is useful for certain kinds of people, namely, the ones who eat, no matter where they live or grocery shop.”
“I used to take my children’s friends out to the garden to warm them up to the idea of eating vegetables, but this strategy sometimes backfired: they’d back away slowly saying, “Oh man, those things touched dirt!” Adults do the same by pretending it all comes from the clean, well-lighted grocery store. We’re like petulant teenagers rejecting our mother. We know we came out of her, but ee-ew.”
“What we all don’t know about farming could keep the farmers laughing until the cows come home. Except that they are barely making a living, while the rest of us play make-believe about the important part being the grocery store.”
“Now, it’s fair to say, the majority of us don’t want to be farmers, see farmers, pay farmers, or hear their complaints. Except as straw-chewing figures in children’s books, we don’t quite believe in them anymore. When we give it a thought, we mostly consider the food industry to be a thing rather than a person. We obligingly give 85 cents of our every food dollar to that thing, too—the processors, marketers, and transporters. And we send back more than three nickels per buck to the farmers: those actual humans putting seeds in the ground, harvesting, attending livestock births, standing in the fields at dawn casting their shadows upon our sustenance.”
“We’ve even named a thing we call the French Paradox: How can people have such a grand time eating cheese and fattened goose livers and still stay slim? Having logged some years in France, I have some hunches: they don’t suck down giant sodas; they consume many courses in a meal but the portions of the fatty ones tend to be tiny; they smoke like chimneys (though that’s changing); and they draw out meals sociably, so it’s not just about shoveling it in. The all-you-can-eat buffet is an alien concern to the French, to put it mildly. Owing to certain rules about taste and civility in their heads, their bodies seem to know when enough is enough. When asked, my French friends have confided with varying degrees of tact that the real paradox is how people manage to consume, so very much, the scary food of America.”
I am only 18 pages in, and I can already feel my spirit lifting. More to come, I can promise you that.