Growing up, I thought food was a simple thing. The grocery store was where food came from, of course, how else? That was the natural order of things.
Mom didn’t buy quite as many yummy foods as I would have liked. Eggo Waffles, chips, pop, and the like were things she bought sometimes but not often. Grandma’s house was heaven. Chips of every flavor, cookies of every kind, Fudgesicles unlimited and pop galore. Laying on the living-room carpet watching tv (another thing we didn’t have at home) and munching away on the forbidden food was the pinnacle of happiness.
At that time, we ate copious amounts of “soldier bread” (Roman Meal whole wheat bread) with lots of margarine, and also quite a bit of Velveeta and American cheese. Than Mom discovered a book called Nourishing Traditions at the library, and began changing what she bought. Real cheddar instead of the processed substitute, real butter, lots if it, instead of margarine, no more Crisco, no more vegetable oil. She tried making sour dough bread, but we rebelled so she gave up, and instead made homemade white bread. There was also that one time she tried sneaking anchovies into the spaghetti sauce.
I had an aversion to anything healthy, most vegetables were gross, and I thought kids whose moms let them eat chips all the time were lucky.
Fast forward a few years, and I read a book Mom had borrowed called The Non-Toxic Avenger. This kindled my interest in more natural living, and reading Nourishing Traditions for myself convinced me to start eating the dreaded vegetables. After discovering how delicious they were (luckily Mom had many fresh from her garden, and didn’t buy a lot of frozen or canned or I may to this day think veggies are gross), I was hooked on healthier food although I still ate the junk too.
I was lucky that Mom avoided a lot of the bad stuff by cooking from scratch. Brownies aren’t exactly good for you, but they are a lot worse for you if they are from a box mix instead of a few simple ingredients. Her gravy didn’t come from a packet, and mashed potatoes started out as whole potatoes.
As the years progressed, we had our own beef, then lamb. I decided farming was what I wanted to do when I grew up, and I started reading books about farming, by authors like Joel Salatin, Gene Logsdon, and Wendell Berry (authors Mom had read that inspired her to start rotationally grazing the animals), and then after having a lot of “whoa!” moments branched out to books about food, it’s history, what’s good and what’s bad.
For a long time I continued to think that, while organic whole foods were better for you, they were expensive, and hard to get, especially when I was working in town, so I still ate a lot of fast food, not thinking it was a big deal.
Fast forward again to the present time. The more I read, the more I see how eating these lesser quality foods makes me complicit in the destruction of arable land, and my own health. Right now I am only responsible for what goes in my body, but if I ever have kids of my own, their health will be on my shoulders as well. Pandora’s Lunchbox by Melanie Warner opened my eyes to the fact that even many of the basic staples sold in stores that I thought were simple, wholesome ingredients are not. Things like white flour, and milk.
I can’t fix everything all at once. My plan for a long time has been to continue buying whatever I needed at the store, while slowly over the years figuring out how to grow all my food myself. But now I don’t think that’s good enough.
I had thought that while it would be nice to buy local or organic, it was just too expensive. Now I think it’s too expensive not to. The “cheap” food we have today is not cheap. The cost is just one you can’t see if you’re not looking. The real cost is the health of the land, the tax dollars we all pay that go into subsidizing corn, soybeans and wheat (you would be amazed to see how many things you eat contain corn or soybeans. They are in EVERYTHING), and a fortune in medical expenses only necessary because of our bad diets, and sedentary lifestyles.
So now, while I can’t fix everything, I am going to make more of an effort to buy local and organic, because I believe it matters. Terribly.
If you want to help too, help the earth and help yourself and your family, here are my ideas on things I will be trying to do that you can do too.
I realize that many of these ideas take time. One of the reasons we have sunk into this pit of bad food, is because no one is home to cook anymore. Prepacked convenience foods are necessary because we don’t have time. What about those people who are barely squeaking by and have no money for better food? What if you are well off enough to spend the extra money, but you don’t want to spend time cooking? Honestly, I just don’t know. But if those of us who can, and who want to, join in the fight to take back control of our food, that will help, at least.
- Take baby steps. First of all, don’t try to change everything at once. You’ll just get discouraged. Keep in mind that every little thing helps. Just pick one of these ideas to start with. Master one step, then commit to another.
- Buy better meat. In my opinion, meat is the most important. CAFO’s are an atrocity. Shame on us for allowing such things. I believe meat in essential to a healthy diet, but that the meat coming out of these places is not fit for eating. Watch the movie Food Inc. to learn more. Find a small farmer to buy meat from. You can try http://www.localharvest.com to find one. If you want it to be better than the CAFO meat, in the case of beef and lamb, you want to find someone that raises 100% grass fed and finished. It may say grass-fed, but really be finished on grain. Do your research and make sure. Cows were not created to eat grain in large quantities, it makes them sick. If they are raised on good pasture that was properly managed with rotational grazing, the meat will have more nutritional value. We raise our own beef and lamb, but not chicken. We pretty much gave up eating it for a while, but have now found a farm that has pasture raised chicken. It is delicious, and it feels so good to support a family whose mission statement is “Our passion is building soil fertility through intense pasture management. We believe that where there is life in the soil there will be high quality pastures which will produce healthy animals thus providing nutritious meats, eggs and dairy products. “
- Buy less empty calories. Cut out the junk foods, those are the worst offenders. Chips, pop, cereal, frozen dinners, boxed desserts, candy. Just cut them out. Craving for crunch? Peppers and dip. Need some sweet? Grab some fresh fruit. It is hard to give up these foods. Why? Because there is an army of food scientists whose job it is to make these foods irresistible both in taste and texture. Some of the ingredients are addictive, like high fructose corn syrup. That’s in your pop, cookies, crackers, jelly, ketchup, you name it. It’s one of the ways they sneak corn into your diet. Read labels. If you don’t know what something is look it up. Here is a list of the ones you want to avoid most: https://www.foodmatters.com/article/22-additives-and-preservatives-to-avoid
- Eat more veggies. Eat a variety of veggies. Eat a rainbow to be sure you are getting the full spectrum of vitamins and minerals essential to good health. Some people think they can eat badly, than supplement with vitamin pills. I believe this is dangerous. https://nationalpost.com/health/foods-are-better-than-pills-when-it-comes-to-providing-vitamins
- Eat out less. Eat at home, gather your family together for the meal and all sit down at the same table and talk, and laugh and savor your food. This has been one of the biggest blessings of my life; we all gather around the table every single night.
- Learn to cook from scratch. Try cooking one meal a week completely from scratch, from whole ingredients. For example if the recipe calls for diced tomatoes, use fresh, not canned Get your family involved or invite friends over to make it fun.
- Buy better ingredients. Once you’ve gotten used to eating real food, start focusing on better quality ingredients. Go through your shopping list and see how many items you can replace with local or organic versions. This is also very hard, because we are wired to look for the cheapest price. If we truly want to make a change, and be part of creating a better food system, sooner or later we are going to have to dig a little deeper in our pockets. It’s the nature of the beast. Visit your local farmers’ market. Consider buying things in bulk to freeze or can for the winter.
- Start growing things. Once you’ve simplified your food, you will notice that much of what goes into making a meal are things you can grow yourself. A garden is great exercise, a wonderful remedy for depression and anxiety, and gives you peace of mind about your produce. Even a tiny yard can be transformed into a leafy vegetable and flower paradise, and if you have a little land, chickens, sheep, a cow, the options are endless! I am having a go at growing some wheat this year. Who’d have thought you can make you own flour? Wild, huh?