Saturday, February 27, 2010

On the Library List

I've been completely consumed with the topic of food lately. I get the question all the time: what do you eat? "Food" is my standard reply.

The concept that is hardest to define at this point in American cultural history is what is food? I have thoroughly enjoyed the ideas presented in Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food, that helped me over a year ago really formulate proper ideas on how to feed my family. Ideas that weren't entirely foreign: I knew to shop the perimeter of the grocery store and skip the aisles, I knew it was important to eat food seasonally (it's cheaper and fresher) but what surprised me was the politics. Yes, the Nixon conspiracy that drove prices down but gave us less real food to eat. I didn't know about the corporate group lobbyists that created the US Food Pyramid or the sugar lobbyists that helped persuade for a higher RDA of sugar in our diets to increase their economic benefit.

As an American consumer, I was prompted to ask, "why don't I know this?" Simply put, I didn't care. I had other worries, the food was there, I didn't care how it arrived there, who had picked it, how long it's been there, what had been done to it to preserve it in near-ripe state... I didn't ask and most people in the market were just like me. I'm learning more about sustainable agriculture, family farms, fair-trade and equal-trade organizations that support farmers and workers. I'm learning about the effects of conventional farming, both on the land, on the air, the watershed, the farmer, the consumer and on the product itself. Most of what I've found has been alarming, but looking at such an overwhelmingly large system of consumerism and apathy, I can't change the system, but I can change what my household eats and how we consume.

I know that every time I purchase something (or choose to not purchase something else) it's a vote. I make a selection with my cash that informs the corporations, my government and my fellow citizens which things are important to me. It's been a year since I started attending pick-your-own farms for local seasonal produce, seeking out farmer's markets, foraging in my local woods, supporting family farms and began reviving the ideas of canning and preserving that I grew up with, into my own home.

This summer, we are share holders into a local organic farm that offers us a weekly CSA of vegetables, fruits, berries, herbs and flowers and cares for our goat, through which we get fresh unpasteurized milk and cheese weekly. We will be increasing the amount of pick-your-own farms we attend this year and I will be more closely monitoring the local growing calendar to choose which weekends I will be canning, dehydrating, freezing or eating the selected seasonal crop. My daughter needs to know where food comes from, and she will learn it by first understanding the food shed that is around her: what grows seasonally, locally and most of all, sustainably.

As I keep pursuing knowledge about food, how we grow it, how we eat it, how to keep it, etc. I started looking to a couple of books to add to my library bag the next time I'm out in town. I've added them to my side bar, so you can quickly click to their Shelfari page and read about them, but I'm including a couple of highlighted texts that I'm particularly interested in.

Sharon Astyk wrote several books that are on my "must read" list, but this one is my "must-read before things start growing this summer" list. Astyk contributes this book as a practical guide to eating locally and seasonally, not just as a fringe movement, but on a community scale. "Independence Days tackles both the nuts and bolts of food preservation, as well as the host of broader issues tied to local diets. It includes: how to buy in bulk and store food on the cheap, techniques: from canning to dehydrating, tools: what you need and what you don't. In addition, it focuses on how to live on a pantry diet year-round...and how to reduce reliance on industrial agriculture by creating vibrant local economies."

Robyn O'Brien is a mama whose daughter suffered a violent allergic reaction and spurned her on to investigate the "toxicity of America's food supply, and trace the relationship between Big Food and Big Money that has ensured that the United States is one of the only developed countries in the world to allow hidden toxins in our food--toxins that can be blamed for the alarming recent increases in allergies, ADHD, cancer, and asthma among our children". This looks like a really great book for information for anybody who eats food in America. It is important for us to be informed instead of surprised when the ails of the system make us ill.

Recently, I took a history class just for the joy of it. The course reminded me of such incredible changes in our landscape in recent past and this book excites me because I forget at times that Americans didn't always eat the way they do now and that for the greater part of our history, all peoples ate locally and seasonally; it wasn't just a hip new concept driven out of California. The tag for this book says it all: "A portrait of American food - Before the National Highway System, before chain restaurants, and before frozen foods, when the nation's food was seasonal". What perhaps interests me most would be any conclusion that Kurlansky would make about the continued effects of globalization and out-sourcing our food. This book would be incredible research in studies supporting regional agriculture.

Kingsolver wrote this book as a nonfiction narrative regarding her year of going counter-mainstream and moving north to start a locavore lifestyle. She chronicles her studies of "you are what you eat" and her journey "away from the industrial-food pipeline to a rural life in which they vow to buy only food raised in their own neighborhood, grow it themselves, or learn to live without it". Her focus of putting the kitchen back in the center of family life and non-monoculturing farms back in the center of the American diet makes this a book I can't wait to read!

*Note: Quotes in italics are taken from the book descriptions given on Shelfari.

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