Monday, May 18, 2009

Some Further Points on Food

I'm glad to hear that I don't sound like a reactionary crackpot when I talk about food politics, because I have a little more to say now that I've finished the book. I think I've figured out in a little more detail what's missing from the advice I'm reading, what the hurdle is.

Pollan and Kingsolver both have lots of great advice about what a healthy food culture looks like and how it works. What they have no suggestions for are the steps from here to there. They talk about our broken diet, culture, relationship with food, and I'm all with them, yes, yes. But it is MY culture, the one I've grown up in, and it's no easier to let go of a crappy culture than a healthy one. So yes, I should eat more whole foods and cook more myself. And Kingsolver even offers recipes and menus, which are incredibly useful even if I never use them, because they make the theory concrete. I've eaten out of the grocery store all my life--and I grew up on a vegetable farm--so I can barely picture the day to day of this diet they're espousing. But Animal, Vegetable, Miracle gives you enough examples that you can maybe grasp the concept.

Gardening is a great example. You should plant a garden. According to Pollan, with just a couple of hours a week of work you'll get in touch with your food supply, have access to great food, and have all the fun of gardening which is so much fun! I'm sorry, but did I mention that I grew up on a farm? If I was going to love gardening, believe me, I'd be there by now. My aunt Charli is always trying to convince me, not just that I could learn to love it, but that I DO love it and just don't know it yet. Because it's so innately fun and fulfilling. No, it's dirty and boring. And a couple of hours a week does not take into account the extra showers and laundry because of all the dirt. And the talk of fun does not take into account the work that needs doing even if it's going to rain all week, or be over 90 degrees every day, or if you're just insanely busy.

So yes, I know I should plant a garden. But the hurdles to me planting a garden are more than just 1) space, 2) seeds, 3) go for it! They're about how I live my life and how I want to live my life. The same is true for cooking. I wish I was someone who loved preparing elaborate meals made of fresh, delicious veggies. I wish that was how I longed to spend my free time. It isn't. So is this advice that I should do it anyway, spend my time doing something I don't love because it's good for me? Or is it that I should just love it? I hope it's the latter, but if it is, I need advice on how. And if I could just start enjoying things that are good for me, well, a whole lot of other hurdles would be removed.

Okay, I do sound a bit like a crackpot in this post. I think that the gardening thing got my dander up, because my life has been full of people who love to garden and cannot comprehend that someone might find it tedious. But I think my point is valid: we don't just have bad habits. It's been generations now--we have bad folkways. And they're a lot harder to change. Maybe the best I can do is raise my son differently. I'm just going to let all those gardeners in my life loose on him and see how he turns out. If he eats like my grandmother, he'll smell funny and live to be 95.

(With apologies to Charli and Grammy, who really, really love(d) their plants.)
Edited to clarify earlier that I do not espouse gardening to nongardeners. I am not that cruel.


JMLC said...

And once again, I am right there with you. And once again, I add the issue of cost. We're trying to get our yard together- just the basics, grass, weeding, mulch, trimming trees- and it's insanely expensive and lots and lots and lots of work. I love the idea of gardening and working in the yard but the reality is that I have tons of other things I want to do- work out, read, clean the house, cook, etc. If you figure out how to love it and not have it cost an arm and a leg, I'd love to know how....

Claire said...

I for one am an avid gardener although not a great one. I do think gardening isn't the cheapest, but there are some easy-making things. A tomato planted in a pot by your door is easy and non mess making. Lettuce seeds strewn along the flowers is way economical and not so tough. After that it gets hard I think.

I work for a food bank and for many families we serve, gardening just isn't viable. Either they have no land (hello third story apartment!) or have never been taught to garden. Some seniors don't have the mobility they used to. So we ask the folks who do garden to plant an extra row and donate produce to the pantries. I think its a wonderful solution for those living in poverty. Not much help for the rest of the world though. I'm excited about the resurgance of community gardening but not entirely convinced that it'll take hold.

I guess you could always teach your son the joy of browsing the farmer's markets.

LibraryHungry said...

Claire, what a great system. Fortunately, my parents actually own and operate a vegetable farm and produce stand for a living. If Adam has any inclination to garden, he'll have plenty of opportunity. But I'm living proof that opportunity doesn't guarantee affinity.

I do have an herb garden, a window box with just lettuce (harvested leaf by leaf, it lasts for months) and potted tomato plants. I absolutely love the idea of gardening, but the actual act of it just brings me no pleasure.

That's what it comes down to, though. At what level are these things I should be doing, whether I enjoy them or not? Versus owing it to the world to at least try and see if I like it, versus living life the unhealthy, bad way I enjoy (reading instead of cooking, learning photoshop instead of gardening, buying asparagus in October because I want it instead of eating what's in season and local and organic).

I don't know the answer. Sometimes I think I need someone to teach me how to be a good person. It's so complicated!

Claire said...

Teach you how to be a good person? You know how wrong you are there right? I'm sure you're being just the teensiest bit tongue in cheek there, but I have to point out that we all can't do everything.

Its all a matter of doing what fits you. Maybe I don't always pay attention to what country my clothes are made in, but I do buy the slightly more expensive cage free eggs packaged in cardboard instead of the styrofoamed eggs produced by the other guys. Sometimes I shop at the grocery store and buy out of season produce instead of sticking to the local farmers market cause I didn't get up early enough and damn a mango sounded good.

We do what we can. I think reading books like these makes us more aware and possibly makes us want to do a bit better for the world, but I doubt most readers of these are overhauling their lives becaus eof them. However, a thousand more good little choices adds up.

And if you wanna swing by Ohio sometime, I'd happily share some of my tomatoes with you. Especially in exchange for some photoshop lessons. ;)