I grew up loving food, so much so that I fluctuated between 180 and almost 200 pounds from the time I was 18 until after marrying my hubs at 33, almost eight years ago (we joke that I was overweight and he was bleach-blond when we got married…must have been true love). Much of what I ate after leaving home as a teenager was consumed gluttonously and carelessly, without thought of origin or substance.
A few cherished food memories from my childhood lingered and nudged at me every time I looked a fast-food sausage biscuit in the face…seeing which cousin could pick the biggest, blood red tomato or neighborhood-wide admired zucchini from my “Paw Paw’s” garden, carefully tended every year; gorging on watermelon or pomegranates in summer gleefully with my Dad on our back porch; sweet summer corn slathered in butter, salt and lots of pepper, plucked from the bed of a farmer’s pickup truck on the corner, shucked in bulk by the whole family and boiled or grilled to crunchy, juicy perfection by my Stepmom; the heady smell of my Grandma’s garlic and black pepper fried chicken on Sundays and many an afternoon spent in her kitchen making (and tasting) her divine cakes. These fond food-memories sat on the back-burner for a while, but just wouldn’t leave me alone at night as reports continued to surface about the contamination of factory-farmed/packaged foods and the environmental effects of producing them.
There have been new accounts consistently over the last several (many) years about increased disease levels in the American population (and elsewhere). Obesity, Diabetes, Cancer…the lists go on and on. Why do these already bloated rates of disease seem to be happening even more frequently? The night we arrived home from our honeymoon, I felt so sick from eating so much meat and thickly-sauced fish and pastas for a week in theAdirondacksthat I became a vegetarian virtually on the spot (we’ve started consuming responsibly and locally-raised, pastured meats since). I honestly believe I was getting sick, which had been happening for a while, because of all the fillers and artificial ingredients in the food I was eating. I began to enjoy fresh foods again, thanks to my Chef/husband’s creativity with the bounty our region provides. It took a several weeks, but I began to feel better.
While considering carrying a child in my womb, learning about these alarming themes put me on a concentrated trajectory to learn what is in my food, exactly what’s in it. I’ve always been the type of person to throw myself into new projects, sometimes to the point of overzealousness, and so began my personal venture into finding out where my food comes from, and how to afford Clean, Real Food on a shoestring budget.
When we began baking for farmers markets, we bought all the fresh produce we could afford. Over the years, we cut out luxuries like going out to eat, the movies or to see bands as often in order to afford more Clean Food. When Nick became the baker at the Honest Weight Food Coop right around the time our daughter was born, we began to delve more into getting to know which foods contained Genetically Modified Organisms, pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, dyes, fillers and other artificially produced materials. We bought less packaged goods and more produce, reduced our grocery bill, cooked at home and ate very well, asked questions of everyone we knew, listened to the answers, applied our newfound knowledge in daily life and became food-activists by voting with our forks.
When we joined the Saturday Delmar Farmers Market, we began to barter bread and pastries for pastured beef, pork, chicken and eggs, and REALLY started to get to know our farmers, many of whom are now friends. We visit “Our” farmers Jon & DJ at Farmer Jon’s Produce in Selkirk every week in-season to pick fresh produce right in the fields for bakery lunches and home dinners, which in the summertime often only consist of simply prepared fresh vegetables and fresh fruit for dessert. The sunshine, dirt and ultra-fresh food beat wheeling a cart down a grocery store aisle any day of the week! Plus, our daughter gets to tag along, learning everything the farmers teach us. Aside from healthier bodies, that really is the biggest bonus – our little one is enjoying learning where her food comes from and how to discern what to eat with careful guidance – she even tried formerly eschewed lettuce one afternoon because SHE had just picked it (and liked it, despite it being dirty and undressed!).
I experience a visceral reaction when I smell the dirt and shake it off fully grown vegetables. I sometimes hug the produce that has been so carefully grown to my chest, my eyes closed with the warm sun on my shoulders, just breathing in the experience and smells. Then we get to bring everything to the bakery and our taste buds are marveled. It’s a wonderful feeling to be able to bring this food to the tables of our community.
Our transition has been slow and steady, but now we know what questions to ask the people who produce our food: How is the soil kept healthy? How are pests abated? Are the seeds GMO-free? Is fertilizer used on vegetables or pasture? What kind, how often and under what circumstances? Is the milk/cream subjected to high heat pasteurization? Are the cows and chickens pumped full of hormones and antibiotics or are medications actually used judiciously? How much of the day/year are they allowed on pasture? Does the alfalfa or other feed they consume contain GMOs? Can we come visit the farm? Those aren’t questions you can get answered when buying from the grocery store. Getting to know our food producers has other beneficial effects: Our community is strengthened through the relationships we develop, and we help support other local families instead of faceless corporations. We actually enjoy our food more now, although we consume less of it. The people we’ve gotten to know and the knowledge they share with us are priceless.
We are trying to provide our dear daughter with long-lasting food memories. I wonder if she’ll remember scavenging for surviving Romas post-hurricane last year, a bundle of them gleefully gathered in her scooped-up dress. Or peeling off their skins in our kitchen after blanching them for preservation. Or the summer-fresh taste of the marinara sauce we prepared and froze, served periodically with her pasta throughout the winter.
I know I will.