Tuesday, March 16, 2010

food should not have labels

this post is not going to be about explaining labels - if you want labels explained read this:
You don't have to be cash flush to eat healthy. The biggest excuse I have ever heard is - "It is too expensive". Yes. You are right. That's what I say back. Especially to those who shop at the large local chain or Costco/Sams. They'll never get it. What is  "it" that they'll never get? Anything that might be different than what they are used to, or off the beaten path they won't do.
For instance - I was at the Farmer's Market last year in the height of tomato season and two elderly women were remarking how ugly the heirloom tomatoes were. I wheeled around and said, "Have you ever tried one?" No. "Okay, here - try this conventionally grown perfect red tomato." they tried it - and said it tasted like a tomato. "Now, try this Cherokee Purple." Wow. "Now try this Amana Orange". Whoa. "And try the Yellow Pear." Wow. I never knew. "So will you take a few home to try?" They did. But I had to be there to sell it to them - one person at a time. The ladies later remarked to the vendor that he should hire me, I smiled, took my tomatoes and bid adieu.
This weekend we were discussing the price of Pine Nuts - well - my little bag of Pine Nuts grown in North America was $11.00 at my local green store. The other bag of Pine Nuts was from Costco, it was also $11.00 but it was 4x the size of mine. I opened the freezer, took out the offending bag and read - Product of China. THAT's why yours are cheaper...wait a minute...why were they cheaper if it traveled so far to get here and probably went through the same manufacturing process? It shouldn't matter. We should not be able to buy nuts from Asia when they can and are grown here. Those are for the Asians.
I would not have had to go through that if the people of this country who own the stores understood how important it is to eat locally.
Another lovely quote from recent escapades: "I'd love to eat local but it is almost impossible." In what way? This particular person lives within spitting distance of 3 Farmers Markets that sell fruit, veggies, milk, meats etc all produced within a 180 mile radius of their town. None of the items for sale there have labels - except the name of the farm.
When you do decide that Farmer's Market shopping or CSA is the way you want to go. First, Congratulations. Second - there are still items that you'll purchase at the store - but those are quite clear and you shouldn't be confused at all wondering if it is safe.
The most humanely treated beef is allowed to pasture, eat grass, have a happy little life, take the 5 years that it takes to get large enough to be harvested for its flesh. When it is harvested - it should also be in a humane and sanitary manner. That's it. It is the massive commercialization of the "meat" industries that has lead to the low prices you see at the supermarket. yes, they are low. The cost should be something akin to what you pay for the grass finished organic beef. Wouldn't we all be more reverent of the animal if its value was truer? Pork and beef are much the same. In a nutshell - commercially processed beef has eaten grass for 6-12 months, is then moved to a feed lot, given sustenance it would not normally eat, has to be given supplements/hormones because they aren't eating what they are supposed to, and aren't exercising enough - they are forced to gain over 1200 lbs in 9 months. Then they become your hamburger.
Chickens love to roam, scratch, peck, eat and play. My chickens, and I only have 5, just enough for our family, are free range. Really free range - and the best darn pest control I've ever seen. They poop and mess up the yard, but it is worth it. Chickens ARE NOT VEGETARIAN. Healthy chickens are allowed to roam, eat bugs, etc. They are not kept in lighted barns - lights keep them laying eggs when they shouldn't be - in the darker winter months. Maybe we shouldn't be eating eggs in the dark winter months as often as we do in the summer? Almost all of the eggs at the store are completely bogus, not to mention old. Very old.
I heard a story one day from a chicken farmer who kept his chickens in a barn with lights - he said - yeah - they are free range - there is a little door at the end of the barn that they are allowed to exit if they want - but they don't. Chickens are skittish - they don't know what's out there - could be a predator - so lets stay together in here where it is safe. Yes, but now that there are hundreds of us in here and the conditions are unnatural interventions are necessary...see where this is going?
I'm not even going to get into production of chicken for meat. All I can tell you is that a Tyson/Foster Farms fryer chicken might cost you $5.00 and a humanely grown and harvested one $17.00. Respect the chicken that gave its life for you, and respect life. did you know that chickens that have been through specialized breeding for eating are nearly featherless? Cold huh?
So what is a foodshed and why should we eat within it? A foodshed is the farm to table route and everything in between. Technically we have a global foodshed now...but the best foodshed is a sustainable and local one - supporting your community and reducing travel time of food.
Recently, I was recalling earlier times with my grandmother. She had a veggie garden and nut trees. She had very little cash, very little education - grade school, and tons and tons of love. She would have unexpected guests all of the time and have beautiful spreads of food available in a moments notice. She did not eat grapes from Chile, berries from Mexico (unless somebody picked them and brought them to her), or Pine Nuts from China - yet when we sat down to eat - everything was wonderful. I remember many pies, polish sausage, many different pickles, a stack of toast, some bbq brisket, green beans, carrots, potatoes, and other items from her yard. If she had some other fruits - sometimes they were from neighbors trees down the street.
She fed her worms the compost-able waste. I remember asking her what that little pile of garbage next to the sink was - "It's for my worms". I thought that was so cool when I was a little kid. I wanted to help her in the garden - she would tell me that the plants are just growing, they don't need help right now. Her garden soil was black as midnight. Your foot sank as you walked in between the rows.
But back to my point - she was never starving. The woman could make something out of nothing - a feast in 15 minutes. And she lived to be 94 - so she wasn't unhealthy either. She pretty much ate locally. She went to the butcher, she stretched a roast, a chicken, even sausages.
And to say she didn't work would be absolutely wrong. She had 8 children. Enough said.
What I think is lost is the ability to use local ingredients to make healthful meals. We often trade fresh fare for packaged instant fix because we're tired and over-worked...but - you'd be surprised how quickly come wholesome dinners can come together. You don't have to cook like Julia Child every night.
When I signed up with my CSA I got this book:
From Asparagus to Zucchini - it is full of wonderful recipes for all sorts of vegetables - you don't ever have to question it again.
I also support the 100 mile idea, sometimes this is a little difficult, but staying within your region is pretty good. Sometimes I'm talking to my relatives who live in another part of the country - they'll tell me that a certain fruit or veggie looks sad - or they don't have something at the market right now that they wanted - is there something else that is in season that maybe - just maybe - you can eat?

So in closing - why shouldn't food have labels?
Packaging is expensive. Packaged goods are full of fillers, sodium, sugars, preservatives, etc.
the reason packaged foods sometimes seem convenient and cheap is because they are, cheap ingredients, convenient to pop in the micro or to snack on, or to consume - but expensive in our landfills, leach unsavory things into our soils, take up fuel for manufacturing, distribution and purchasing (but he - that creates jobs? - that's another story)

I'm not saying not to eat grains - which come in packages...or in bulk - which is the better buy anyways. Get some really nice canisters and keep your stuff in there if you go through it fast or in the freezer.

Fresh fare is meant to be eaten. You don't need a label on an item that comes from a local organic farm or CSA subscription. You don't need a label on a beef or chicken share. You know where it came from and how it was treated. Many times you can go to the farm and check it out if you want a little road trip.

Investing in a "deep freeze" is the way my grandparents went. They had that thing stocked. This way they could keep their surplus frozen until later use. They can run anywhere from 200 - 1000 bucks. 

The "Meat" share people will tell you how much space the meat will take up and you can decide for yourself if you want to go that way.

It is possible to eat fresher on the cheap - I don't think it takes extra effort or time - for strategies on that i'll write again - who knows? You may meet some new friends or see some old ones out at your community Farmers Market? It could be a romantic date to pick out what you are going to make for dinner? Whatever you do - find some fresh fare and eat it. 

Spring is almost here and summer's bounty near, fall is abound with colorful eats, winter greens and sweet treats, until that time of year when things are new and begin again.

Now is the time to start your yearly cycle - make this year the one you support your local community and eat fresh.

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