When did food get so complicated?

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Those are cherry tomato plants in the back.

I remember the first time I heard of free-range chicken. Having grown up on a farm, I couldn’t think what that meant. What other kind of chicken could there be?

Then I found out about tiny cages, cut off beaks, and other abominations. And I learned that “free-range” didn’t mean chickens actually went outside–it simply meant they could if they happened to find that little door in the side of the massive chicken house.

Eating seemed relatively simple when I was growing up on the farm. We raised a fair amount of what we ate–garden stuff, fruit, dairy products, domesticated and wild meat. And when we bought things at the grocery store we were generally looking for the best quality at the lowest price.

That was that.

In college, it was all about the cost. My goal was to get the most of the foods I liked for the least amount of money which I also needed for education, car expenses, entertainment, clothing, and so on.

Then I started focusing on things like fat and calories. “Healthy” eating. Food became the sum of its parts–fiber, protein, sodium, saturated fat, vitamins, etc. I started paying more attention to those nutrition panels on the sides of packages.

And now. Now I’ve read books like The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Palin and Folks, This Ain’t Normal by Joel Salatin. I’ve become aware of the atrocities happening daily in our food system. I’ve become aware that a fair amount of what’s sold in the average grocery store isn’t even food. It’s a man-made approximation of food. Now I’m reading ingredient lists or even better, buying things without a label. You know, fresh fruits and vegetables, bread from the baker, or a fresh chicken at the farmer’s market.

Which brings me full circle to what my grandparents ate. They grew it or made it. If they didn’t have it or couldn’t get it locally, they did without. No tomatoes in January. No strawberries in December. No shrimp or crab in central West Virginia at all.

But there was fresh-caught trout rolled in meal from their own corn. There were Sunday pork roasts from the hog butchered on Thanksgiving Day. There were cakes made with milk from the cow and eggs from the chicken. There was hot cornbread with apple butter.

I think a big part of the problem with our food system today is that we no longer eat to fuel our bodies. Food has become a form of entertainment. We don’t eat so that our bodies and minds have the strength they need–we eat to titillate our taste buds. We eat to satisfy cravings and delight our senses.

And, I would argue, this is not a bad thing in and of itself. God made food GOOD. Psalm 34:8 says, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” We all know the delight of tasting something good.

But when I’m willing to sacrifice the well-being of animals, the land, and the environment just because I crave a feedlot beef cheeseburger followed by chocolate dipped strawberries out of season–that’s when I’m in trouble.

Food shouldn’t be so complicated.

So here are a few things I’m doing to try and reset the natural balance:

  1. Buying local food. At the farmer’s market it’s easy. In the store I’m checking to see just how far those peaches were trucked. From South Carolina? Good. From South America? Not so good.
  2. Making things from scratch. Okay, I did buy donuts for an event at work the other day. But the goal is to make more things from scratch. Homemade pancakes are actually not much trickier than from a mix.
  3. Composting. A huge amount of our landfill waste is FOOD. A compost pile at the far end of the driveway doesn’t even smell bad.
  4. Growing a few consumables. My husband will tell you I have a black thumb. Even so, I can keep a pot of herbs going. And I have a tomato plant in the flower bed that’s currently loaded with wee fruit. Here’s hoping I can harvest some soon!

How about you? What are you willing to do to simplify your food?

2 thoughts on “When did food get so complicated?

  1. Excellent point: food is often entertainment. I used to have a garden, but time, interest, and dwindling of family size has reduced it to strawberries and raspberries. Same goes for the making-it-scratch. Respecting our impact on the planet, being what we eat, how much we eat, and why we eat is an essential step in uncomplicating a very simple God given gift: food.

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