One night my oldest niece, Cutie, was putting together her outfit for school the next day. Having reached her 6-year-old limit with accessorizing, she said "Oh, it's pretty enough. Let's play."
That's how I'm feeling right now about food - oh, it's complicated enough. Let's eat.
This week I finished Barbara Kingsolver's "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" about her family's year of living almost entirely off the food from their farm and farms near theirs. Think about that for a minute.... greens and apples and corn are good, good food. But do bananas grow in your neighborhood? How about coffee trees? Pineapple? Cranberries? Green tea? Cinnamon?
I totally understand her point - she wants to minimize her carbon footprint. She doesn't want to fly grapes in from Ecuador when she has perfectly good apples in her backyard. She wants to support local farmers and humane farming instead of corporate agribusiness. She wants to strengthen her family by sharing the responsibility and the spirituality of the whole process. Makes sense.
Feeling rather smug about having vegetables for breakfast this morning - an omlette with red pepper, spinach, and feta cheese - I took a gander at the provenance of what I was eating. The eggs were distributed from Ohio (possibly also the home of the chickens, but not sure), the red pepper was from Mexico, the spinach was from California and the feta cheese came from Wisconsin.
Healthful breakfast? You bet - all organic, two egg whites and one yolk, not too much cheese, etc. But local? Not by a long shot. They didn't even carpool.
Lunch was a slice of my favorite Mellow Mushroom pizza (spinach & mushroom). For dinner I made Thai Chicken - "product of Thailand" was seriously on everything, not unexpectedly.
The book is about more than the connection between food production and environment, though. It's about family and community connectedness - knowing your neighbors well enough to share growing tips and harvest abundance. Being deeply involved in the fuel you put in your body that powers your movement and your thoughts and your senses. Allowing every member of the household to point to something on the dinner table with some pride and ownership, knowing they grew and/or prepared it.
When I told Sweetie that two of my friends who also read the book have since started making cheese, he thought for a moment and said, "Wow. That must be a powerfully written book." It is, and it's a good read.
In my case, it honestly isn't going to bring about a sea change in our kitchen or our back yard. We already eat at home, we both cook, and I have spent too much time acquiring a recipe collection to throw 80% of it out because it depends on imported ingredients. Particularly since my Italian heritage requires foods that don't necessarily grow or swim here in Georgia. Our 1/10 acre isn't likely to yield more than a little summer produce and give us a reason to get outdoors more. But I did buy some vegetable seeds yesterday, and I so enjoyed my basil plant last year that I plan to grow some more fresh herbs this summer.
And while Kingsolver didn't go into this part, there's another, delayed benefit to family cooking. When I was growing up my mother was an ER nurse on the 11pm to 7am shift. In the winter, she would often come home in the morning and make me half a broiled grapefruit (a delicacy many of my Southern friends have never heard of). Think about it - she could've handled the aftermath of a serious car accident, worked on a patient having a heart attack, treated an abused child brought in by the police - she had to have been exhausted. Yet in the cold, still-dark morning she would make me this breakfast to be sure I had something warm and healthful before going to school. And if that's not love, I don't know what is. Right now - at 9:04 AM on Sunday, January 25, 2009 - 30 years or more after the days when she did this as a matter of course - I'm enjoying a broiled grapefruit from my own kitchen, and feeling loved and connected.
It lasts long, long after the meal is over. That's why it matters.
One grapefruit, cut in half
1 TBSP brown sugar per half
Move oven rack up to the top of the oven.
Place grapefruit half (or halves) in a pie plate, or other dish that has sides. Sprinkle with brown sugar. Broil for 3 minutes or until white pith of the shell begins to brown.
Enjoy a warm, syrupy piece of citrus.