Confessions of a not-rich foodie, Part two

Continued from here

During that period of time there were a ton of articles about locavores and people cutting their carbon footprints.  They were fascinating tales, but mostly I found them overly neurotic and self-absorbed.  And yes, elitist. A lot of the solutions in their lives involved just a heightened level of consumerism, focused on buying the right products to make themselves feel good.  I never warmed to the Slow Food movement, even though I ate much the same way.  We have a great network of food co-ops and farmer's markets and CSA farms in the area where I live, and I mostly considered them expensive or inconvenient. 

I didn't link myself and my hobbies with these food systems, because they didn't seem aimed at people like me.   For whatever reasons, I didn't feel like part of any kind of movement. That my lifestyle tended to be ecologically on the green side was just part of who I was. It was a benefit to living small that I appreciated, but didn't seem to be particularly difficult or worthy of praise. 

And then one August I picked up a book called Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, by Barbara Kingsolver.  I had always liked her fiction, that she wrote a non-fiction book about gardening and eating just seemed cool.  What I read inspired me.  Here was a person who for various reasons decided to eat close to home, but instead of adapting as a consumer, she decided to DO IT HERSELF.  I realized I wasn't that interested in people who voted with their buying dollar--I wanted to hear about people who put their shovel where their mouth was.  It was high summer, and my tomatoes were getting ripe, and suddenly I looked at my harvest in a whole new light.  What if I tried to make enough salsa to last all winter?  How many jars of tomatoes do I use all year?  This book made the gardening and preserving I was already doing have meaning. If I saw value in eating organically and close to home, the only way I can afford it is to grow as much of it myself as I can.

But another side of the book were the sidebars written by Kingsolver's husband, Steven Hopp.  Though not as uplifting a tale, they described the problems with the meat industry, and the systemic problems of Big Agriculture.  A lot of these things I knew already, but like a lot of Americans I would dissociate these facts from the neatly wrapped packages at the grocery store.  Several times during the reading of this book, I thought "I can't eat grocery store meat any more".  In the end, my consumer habits evolved to align with the practices I was using in my own backyard. 

To be honest, because meat is not something I can easily grow in my semi-urban location, it really pushed the limits of my frugal habits.  Farmer's market beef and poultry is NOT cheap.  It's not as easy as planting a seed and waiting for a harvest. Its been a gradual process for us, and it's a combination of eating less meat and finding middle ground with medium-sized producers.  I still occasionally buy a package of chicken at the store.  We eat meatless meals on many nights.  I try to offset the additional costs with the "free" food we are producing at home.

These changing habits brought me back to the local farmer's markets and vendors.  I had a new appreciation for these folks, because I was no longer seeing them from the consumer side, I was now identifying with them as a producer.  I read the articles that downplay the advantages of eating locally (does it really save energy?) but at the end of the day, I see no downside to putting money into our local economy and into the hands of people who love to farm and take care of the land. If some say organic produce is identical nutritionally to conventional, isn't there still a net-benefit if you consider the farm laborers who aren't exposed to pesticides and the reduced dependence on petroleum based chemicals?  

So after all of this, I'm now in some ways pretty much a FOODIE.  I have found artisanal products in our area that I love and effuse about to others, I wrinkle my nose at off-season produce and bad processed cheese at the grocery store.  I spend a great deal of my time thinking about meal-planning, and putting food by for winter.   I don't have to be wealthy to eat this way.  I go out of my way for a few things and spend more on my food budget than I probably need to.  But I can still shop at the "big" grocery store (really, they do have some good stuff, you just have to read labels), I still buy a few convenience items, and I don't keep five kinds of olive oil on my shelf.  If something is available locally and seasonally, I choose it, but I don't deprive myself of orange juice or an avocado if I want it.  A lot of what I eat is plain, regular American food.  It's just that my mac and cheese takes a few minutes longer to make from scratch, our lazy nacho-night has home-canned salsa and Wisconsin cheddar. And once in a while I have some friends over and make a fantastic meal that I take a picture of and we talk about for days... on a smaller scale than Mr. Pollan's party, but still.

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  1. "but at the end of the day, I see no downside to putting money into our local economy and into the hands of people who love to farm and take care of the land." Well said!!

    For me, that and the protection of the land and the creatures on it are a big factor in my desire to grow and eat organically produced food. The fact that it costs less, tastes better and appeals to my strongly independent DIY streak is also a big part.

  2. See, Ms S, I see what you and Ali are doing to be a great harbinger of "ways to be" for a lot of us. Being both producers AND consumers. And I agree with Ali in that the motivation has to come with a strong dose of DIY...whatever that is, confidence? hubris? that little spark that says "this meal at expensive restaurant x was good, bet I can make it better," or "gosh that's a lot of ching for a homegrown tomato, bet I can grow one myself," and then whammo you evolve to having chickens in your yards too.

    I am curious to see where the two of you go to from here. Is it an accretion of different skillz and products, or is it finding local like-minded souls who might be doing something you're not doing (goat cheese, mead-making) in which you can make some fair trades. Or: is this "it," as in, damn, I am out of time/drive/land to garden?

    I mean, it wasn't THAT long ago that we all started down this path, but look where we are.

  3. Damn, El, I can't believe I didn't think of this, but we buy meat chickens, pork and goat cheese from a colleague of Dan's. I wonder if we could barter for at least the goat cheese!

    We actually HAVE bartered with her in the past, constructing sheep feeders for her. Hmmmmm.

  4. Hmmm is right, lots of things to think about, a whole essay I'm sure.

    I think mostly its going to continue to be an evolution, probably reaching a stasis at some point with bursts of activity as inspiration hits. We definitely have some biggish projects in the pipeline, and also have a driving urge to simplify/refine, so that all these processes are easier with time.

    I am wary of the idea that you have to do it all, more-is-better has a bad way of backfiring, and I see more wisdom in careful choices than packing in for volume's sake. I mean, does EVERYBODY have to run an iron-man triathlon these days? :)

    The barter idea is an interesting one, though I find so far that local souls tend to do a lot of the same things, so the person with honey also has eggs and a big garden. But it's an idea out there, along with some kind of niche market product, or swapping labor for some livestock space. We'll see.


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