Tuesday, August 22, 2006

About Food

We have a garden. Behold:

We also have planted a winter garden:

I love our garden, even if it seems overwhelming at times. That could be because I am not used to gardening. I married into it. The garden is not my own design, nor did I choose the plants. My husband tried to get my input, but at the time he was ordering seeds I was head-deep in unpacking my stuff in my spare time. Since my spare time consisted of about two mintues after dinner and before getting OC ready for bed and getting ready for work the next day and then collapsing into bed myself, I trusted his gardening experience instead. He knows what he's doing. I found out I liked Swiss Chard because he grew it:

Now that I spend a good portion of my day at home, I am intimate with the garden and am catching on to what needs to be done and when. Not catching on quickly, but rather at my own slow, dumb pace.

For example, one day my husband came home and said he had noticed the corn looked ripe, and asked if we were going to be having some that night for dinner. I said something something like, "I will pick some for tomorrow's dinner but for tonight, I had planned to have this!" and presented him with zucchini spaghetti for the kajmillionth time, not admitting that the reason we weren't having corn that night was because it hadn't occurred to me to check the corn.

I water and weed the garden and pick things like cherry tomatoes because that's what I see needs to be done. As for the corn, I was waiting for it to jump out of the field and into my kitchen as a way of announcing its doneness, obviously.

(In all fairness to me, our corn came on very early this year, so it was reasonable that it not occur to me that the corn might be ripe in July. Am dumb, but not THAT dumb.)

Look! We have eggplant:

I don't know when to pick the eggplant. Nor do I know what to do with it once I do. This is one of the things I have to learn. (Which reminds me, do you have a good recipe that uses eggplant? Thanks.) Thank goodness for the internet.

My husband would like to have a fully self-sustaining farm, raising his own animals and organic fruits and vegetables for our own consumption. If left to his own devices he would likely figure out a way to make his own toilet paper and toothpaste, but for now there is his job that gets in the way of conquering technical obstacles such as these.

I am happy to raise orchard trees, berries, and a vegetable garden. The only animals I want to care for are cats and possibly some honey bees one day. This is because I don't want to be tied down to feeding and watering every day. I need the freedom to do other things, like shop for shoes at Ether when the mood strikes. I have priorities. Lesser priorities after proper footwear has been acquired include time to spend with my daughter; writing; keeping alive the plants and animals that we do have; more perennial flower gardening with lots of lavender.

I do like the idea of trading what we grow with other farmers for the things we don't, like chicken fryers and pork. I have found a source for eggs through my friend's son. OH thinks it would be a great thing for her to keep chickens. I suspect she would only be enthusiastic about it unless she had visitors to show them to.

There is much to learn. I am learning more and more about gardening, organic gardening, canning, preserving, paying attention to where our food comes from, and the energy costs related to bringing it to us.

(Would you be surprised if I said I hadn't thought of that last aspect much before? No??)

I've begun reading about the relationship of food to energy use and what I've read is alarming. For example, most food in the United States travels between 1,500 and 2,000 miles before being eaten (Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, Iowa State University)


behind each calorie of food in the typical American diet stands seven to 10 calories of fossil fuel energy (University of Michigan Center for Sustainable Systems).

That makes me think a lot about what's important to me versus what it costs to have it. The easy answer is taste. When food travels a long way, it loses flavor. I would rather have flavorful food. It's also healthier to eat foods that are grown nearby (for example, bagged spinach loses about half its folate and carotenoids after being stored in refrigeration for just four days. — Journal of Food Science.)

What about supporting local farmers? I think that's important to keep farmland viable and prosperous so as to encourage family farming and organic farming processes.

Those are a few of the reasons why eating locally is important to me, the energy costs being further incentive that I hadn't considered before. Then I read that the food industry uses about a fifth of the oil consumed in the United States. — University of Michigan Center for Sustainable Systems.


I know I went all "sustainable" on your ass, but that's what I think about when I'm out working in the garden with my little helper.

I think about my great grandma who had a farm in eastern Washington, and it was a do-or-die prospect. We grow our own but what we don't have is easily purchased. Luckily, we live in the Willamette Valley and there is plenty of access to farmer's markets, food co-ops, and family farm stands. What needs to happen now is fresh food becoming available in inner cities and in all neighborhoods, so that no matter where you live there is this option. I don't think that socioeconomic factors should be a barrier to healthy eating. That's why I'm talking about this, because it's important to me as a person and as a mother, and I am no different in that respect than the mother who lives inner eastside neighborhoods of whatever city and is is sick of their neighborhood 7-11's high prices and few options for unprocessed foods.

When I think of the low prices offered by suburban grocery stores on food whose origins are far away, I think about what goes in to getting it to me: Large fields of pesticide-laden crops grown in basically "dead" soil; mass produced, mass harvested before ripening, preserved and shipped in cold storage to get it to all the various stores. It's not very appetizing.

I recently found some papers from a project I remember doing in fourth grade to do with the Oregon Trail. We formed wagon train parties and did exercises about packing your supplies, trading along the way, etc. I wrote in my trail journal that I wanted to be a "woman farmer" and between me and my carpenter husband, we'd make everything we needed. (No wonder OH found me irresistible!) Of course, this ideal means I need to find a source for Hello Kitty raw materials and gain a penchant for manufacturing sandals so we will can be supplied with these:


Further information, if you dig it:

In the United States, agricultural imports are rising twice as fast as exports. Over the past two decades, imports of fruits, vegetables and grains increased by more than 100 percent. Today, the typical American meal contains ingredients from at least five countries outside the United States.
U.S. Department of Agriculture

Here’s the breakdown of food’s fossil fuel consumption: 20 percent consumed on the farm; 40 percent burned up in processing, packaging and shipping; another 40 percent is used to store and prepare the food.
Chad Heeter, “My Saudi Arabian Breakfast”

The average American farmer receives about 20 cents of every dollar spent on food. But when customers buy directly from the farm, the farmer gets the whole dollar.
John Ikerd, Professor Emeritus of Agricultrual Economics, University of Missouri


Edited to add: It seems I wrote that spending time with my daughter was a lesser priority than shoe-buying. This is not the case. I regret the statement which implied such a thing.


M J said...

100% Green thumb!

Your garden is beautiful. I would have a garden too if I weren't the "Torturer of Plants".

I love eggplant parmesan. Mmm Mmm mm! Do you have some basil kicking around in that garden?

href="http://www.gourmetsleuth.com/recipe_eggplantp.htm"> This is a great recipe

M J said...

mind the shotty linking


Jess said...

I am so jealous of your garden. I'm struggling to get my herbs growing on the windowsill...

As for aubergines, I was going to def. mention the "melanzane parmiggiana" but looks like MJ beat me to it. :) Stir fries are good and you can make a mean ragu with aubergines, garlic, onion, tomoato, and a drop of white wine. Add tons of fresh basil at the end all roughly chopped up, top with parmiggiano and chomp away.

Lady M said...

Your garden photos make me want to start growing vegetables too!

Anonymous said...

I actually have an eggplant recipe! From my aunt:

Eggplant appetizer:

1 small eggplant
3-4 stalks celery
1 medium onion
black olives
1 can tomato paste
salt & pepper (to taste)

Peel eggplant and dice. Dice the onion and celery. Saute in olive oil until cooked. Add one can of black olives sliced, one small jar of capers, drained, and tomato paste. Simmer until done - it will be spreadable. Serve with crackers or toasted bread. It is better the day after making.

It also says you can substitute green olives for capers.

I can't believe I remembered that and knew where it was. That is a new record for my memory.

Thanks for the nice emails! :)