Laura and I are picky over our food. We’re often referred to as “Food Snobs” by our friends, most often in good fun, but sometimes a little accusingly, especially when we reveal just how convoluted our food gathering efforts are in our attempt to eat food that is local, pesticide free, non – Genetically Modified and as organic as possible. I side with a local chef, who, during a conversation one night after a long hard shift in the kitchen, almost spit the phrase out of her mouth. “Organic” she said, with the air of someone regarding a turd that mysteriously appeared on a kitchen counter. “That means absolutely nothing now. All of our food used to be ‘organic’ and not that long ago. We raised our chickens, we didn’t call them organic. They were yard birds. We raised our own cows, grew our own gardens, raised our own grain and took it to the mill for processing. It’s a matter of convenience and it is simply a label that makes people feel good about what they are buying.”
That was a bit of an eye-opener. I had unwittingly said the wrong thing, but she opened my eyes to slightly different way of thinking. The more I read about the so-called organic label, the more upset I became. I almost wish I hadn’t read all of this, as I am now wary of anything that comes from a supermarket. I just finished “The Revolution will not be Microwaved” which is a fairly dense read, but I highly recommend it. Other titles I’ve just read are “Omnivores Dilemma; Animal, Vegetable, Miracle; In Defense of Food; The Botany of Desire; Folks this ain’t normal and several cookbooks espousing the need for a more sustainable way of producing food and eating. All the evidence suggests that raising a small garden improves your life in many ways, not limited to just better food. You get in touch with your land and children especially love to work with growing things.
That was a bit of a tangent, but I am still on track. As I write this, the Washington Post is covering a summit in Washington on ways to revolutionize the food industry even further in response to increased starvation around the world as our population pushes ever closer to nine billion people. Curiously absent from this conference are any of the advocates of slow food, Michelle Obama, sustainable food production representatives or anyone who is actually promoting real change. Instead, there are lobbyists and representatives of the massive food production industry, which consists of conglomerates that are largely owned by international corporations formed after World War II when bombs and gunpowder weren’t needed in the quantities required during the War.
Why do we buy into this concept? I think a lot of it is perception. It’s more pleasant for me to go to the farmer’s market on Saturday mornings, see people I know, chat with the farmers and taste my way through all the artisanal samples of hummus, cream cheese, cheeses, pizza, local burgers and hot dogs while shopping than it is to be inundated with marketing at the local grocery store, where the shelves now literally talk to you. I’ll never get used to a coupon box yelling at me to buy Mello Yellow. I’m not for certain what that really is – but I never want to eat anything that has the term “Yellow” in it anywhere.
For others, a trip to a Farmer’s Market is quite overwhelming. Nothing is in neat little packages labeled certified and inspected. Instead, you’re dealing with a farmer who has likely been up long before sunrise. He/she may look a little weary, sunburned, and sometimes, gasp, they may have dirt on their clothes! These are the real activists – the farmers that passionately grow their crops, raise their animals with love and affection and are proud of their products. They can tell, should you want to know, the personality of the chicken you just bought. Our chicken supplier, from whom we have steadfastly been buying chicken for years, laughed last Saturday morning. “That guy had an attitude!” he told me with a grin.
I think that a lot of us would be turned off by that statement. We have become alienated from our food sources, trusting a government agency to painstakingly inspect and render safe an increasingly mechanized biological system. We don’t want to know that the chicken was once alive, we’d prefer for it to be served to us in frozen, breaded form, far removed from the slaughterhouse where it, and millions more just like it, were inhumanely raised and butchered.
Not me. I like to think that the chicken that is going to sustain me, my wife and my unborn child lived a productive and happy life, full of sunshine and good food by people who cared a great deal about him. I know that the stock that I simmer out of this wonderful bird is free of growth hormones, preservatives, antibiotics, ever-resistant strains of weird bacteria and fertilizers. I’ll know that, as I can this liquid gold, I can safely store it for up to a year or more, for it has been prepared in my kitchen by me, only a few miles from where the chicken happily roamed only a few days ago.
So, ignorance may be bliss, but knowledge is power.