Inching closer to food independence
For as many generations as I know about, my family were city people except that at one point, my dad bought a farm in upstate New York which I’m fairly sure he did as a tax deduction, not as a place to raise anything other than my brother for a brief period.
Aside: Skip this if you want to get to the point of this post. To my shock, I only recently discovered when I needed my birth certificate to get a new Medicare card, that at my birth, my dad listed his occupation as “farmer.” What? He was a stock broker! I never lived on the farm. I was brought home to a house on a hill that, while it was on a couple of bucolic acres, sprouted not grain or corn, but swing sets and bicycles.
Anyway, as I grew up in the fifties and sixties, my family ate the typical American diet consisting mostly of meals cooked from scratch (exceptions were Wonder Bread, peanut butter, jelly, bologna, bakery items and Cheerios). In our house six nights a week dinner included meat or chicken (occasionally fish), vegetable and potato or rice plus a glass of milk the size of Texas (a week’s supply was delivered in bottles which were picked up when the new ones were dropped off). The seventh night we inhaled some variety of pasta with canned tomato sauce topped with squiggles of real Parmesan cheese. Occasional desserts were fruit based—baked apples in winter and icy glasses stacked with watermelon balls in the warmer months.
I have no idea where the food came from (we never visited a farm that I remember, much less a U-pick), but I don’t believe much of it was trucked from California (we lived in NY) and certainly fruit or veggies from outside of the U.S. were a rarity as were many packaged goods (though not all—one of my most vivid childhood taste memories was Thomas English Muffins—I insist to this day that no one has ever been able to replicate their exact flavor).
By the time my husband and I had kids, what qualified as food and healthy eating had been boxed, canned, and frozen into hardly recognizable alternate forms which we were bullied into buying by ads that touted “the latest,” “the greatest,” and “the most modern way.” No woman I knew wanted to be left in the dark ages prior to B.C. (before Betty Crocker).
While I’ve never been one to follow the crowd and for the most part stuck to the familiar meat, veggie and starch, I certainly bought my share of packaged goods. (No Hamburger Helper or Pop Tarts despite their enticing names, but plenty of Campbell’s soups, cereals of every description, sauces, frozen desserts and I think there even was a Tang period when, even though we were all decidedly Earth-bound, we decided if it’s good enough for the astronauts it’s good enough for us.)
And so it went for many years.
Then about 18 months ago, I decided to stop buying anything in a can. Partly I did it because of the BPA issue. But mostly I did it to avoid having to recycle the cans and because I thought it would be fun to try doing without. (I know. I’m perverse that way. What others see as a sacrifice, I often view as a game.) It’s amazing how easy giving up cans turned out to be. I discovered that almost anything I’d buy in a can came in glass which I reuse as storage containers. Better yet, I don’t have to buy these things at all. Soups, for instance, are easy to make and freeze in glass jars.
And although I’m far from “independent,” i.e. free from buying my food from corporations, I definitely am on a different path than I was for 60+ years.
Some of what I’m now doing in addition to nixing cans:
- Buying locally produced food. I admit to purchasing California fruit and veggies when I can’t get local, organic, but whatever is in season here, I buy.
- Skipping ingredients. Since I dislike cooking, it’s much easier and more pleasant for me to cook in batches. I used to purchase exotic ingredients for a recipe only to never use them again. Eventually they got tossed. Now I buy nothing out of the ordinary or that I have to question whether it will be used again. I purchase only what I know I like and will consume. Unless we’re having guests, I stick with very simple meals, most of which I don’t have to cook.
- Shopping more often. I used to make a list and do a big shopping trip once a week. The fridge would be stuffed and lots got wasted. Now I go two to three times (always with other errands) including stops at farmer’s markets in the spring, summer and fall. There is a lot less waste in my refrigerator drawers.
- Becoming the freezer queen. I know a lot of people are into canning these days, but it’s too much work for me. I prefer to freeze everything I can which includes many fresh fruits, lots of homemade tomato sauce and as mentioned above, soups. I recently purchased a dehydrator and plan to try that too.
- Hoping this fall to buy into a meat co-op and possibly, if I can find one, a local poultry one as well.
- Growing a few things, mostly lettuce, chives, herbs and edible flowers plus raspberries and some blueberries.
- Frequenting U-pick farms. We’ve got some wonderful local farms around here. My husband and I will make a day of it, taking our bikes, riding the country roads, then picking whatever’s available. One of my favorites is blueberry picking since I eat them almost every morning of the year for breakfast with homemade yogurt.
To be absolutely honest, I’ll never be completely independent when it comes to my food purchases. But it definitely feels good to cut back to the point where I’m almost completely supporting local independent growers.
How are you inching closer to food independence?
Lynn Colwell and Corey Colwell-Lipson are mother and daughter and authors of Celebrate Green! Creating Eco-Savvy Holidays, Celebrations and Traditions for the Whole Family, and founders of Green Halloween®.
Note: This post is part of the July 2012 Green Moms Carnival hosted this month at Farmers Daughter.