Thursday, January 23, 2014

Relearning Food

As I was walking into work the other day, I happened to walk in with one of the teachers at the school, who saw the sign on my car and asked me what we do.  After I had explained about homesteading, and how we grow most of what we eat, she said to me that she had always thought about growing a garden, because nowadays you don't really know what you're eating.

You don't really know what you're eating.

That struck me, mainly because it's true.  What are you eating when you eat grocery store food?  Of course, sometimes you know.  If you're buying milk, you're getting milk, give or take.  You will, of course, never know just how many antibiotics went into those cows and how many growth hormones they were given.  You can't know.  That gallon of milk could have come from a dozen different cows, I'm guessing possibly from different dairies.  You can't know what you're really getting, but you know it's pretty much milk.
Milk on its way to become cheese
All promises are broken, however, when you buy anything that's not a "raw" material.  Can you pronounce most of what's on the label of a processed food?  I can't.  I also couldn't tell you what most of it is.  So what are you eating when you eat processed foods?  I'm thinking, with the few news blips that have come out about wood pulp in your ice cream, and what chicken nuggets are really made out of (hint, hint:  all the parts I throw away on butchering day), that we may not want to know.  And of course, there are all the food scares because of unclean food and people getting sick, and so on.

To me, this all points to a system of food supply that is not working and is on life support.  The fillers and the "parts" things are made out of are added (I believe) to "pad" the fact that the country really can't produce the amount of food that the people living in it require, so they are finding ways to stretch it out.  It would be like a mother adding rice to a meat stew because there's less meat to go around and is more expensive.  Rice will fill bellies as well, so there's a little meat in the stew, but rice is added to pad it out, and everyone gets a nice meal.  Unfortunately, in this case, they're not using rice.
Early October mish-mash harvest
All that aside, whether it is because of what's in it, or because it comes from four thousand miles away, the food you buy is not as good for you as anything you will produce yourself.  Nor does it taste the same.  This year has been an amazing journey on changing our views on how food truly can taste and how it can feel when eaten.  Because we've now been here for a few years, and have somewhat established the gardens, this year was a pretty durn good crop year, even though it was a tough one, weather-wise.  So, we ate from the garden a whole lot more.  On top of that, we have our first milk animals producing milk, and have been enjoying their milk and cheese and yogurt.  It has become a whole new ballgame, and the difference is astounding.
Blurry bell peppers
The first thing I noticed was the milk itself.  Goat's milk, when it comes from your animals, and is taken care of properly, tastes just like what whole milk should taste like.  Sweet, creamy, it's amazing, and nothing like store-bought milk.  It's much, much better.  Yogurt, which I make out of our raw goats' milk, is also fantastic, and depending on the culture I use, it can be slightly tangy or soupy, or it can be creamy and rich.  No matter what, it is NOTHING like store-bought.  Served with a dollop of homemade jam, this yogurt is fantastic to eat every day, any time.  Interestingly, since I have started to eat it, I have noticed how GOOD I feel.  How good?  Really, really good.  And my body actually craves it quite often, which is really interesting.  How often do you say to yourself "I really want a yogurt"?  Probably not too much. 

In counterpoint, after many months of eating only home made yogurt, I had the opportunity to have a store bought one.  It was one of those light yogurts in the little cups, of which I cannot remember the name.  I picked it up at coffee hour, which is something the school I work at does on Fridays.  I thought "Good, yogurt", and dug in.  I had two bites and had to throw it away.  UGH.  Not only was the texture totally wrong, but the cloying artificial sweetness of it was just too much.  I used to like to eat that stuff, but not anymore.  I guess once you've had the real deal you can never go back.

A Cayenne pepper ristra.  Kind of.  Or an octopus.  Or chihuli.
Potatoes.  I have a lot of problems growing good potatoes, with two years ago being the exception.  It is a problem, and one I need to ameliorate, because though I always just want to give up on potatoes, they are such a staple and good source of calories and nutrition, I really can't.  Last year was a bad potato year, yielding a very small amount of sad little potatoes.  Since I knew that, I saved my pitiful harvest for a big family dinner and made potato pancakes out of them.  They were, hands down, the crispiest, melt-in-your-mouthiest potato pancakes I've ever had.  Best ever.  Any time I have used a store-bought potato the cakes have come out mushy.  These were works of art.  Will I be growing potatoes again?  Absolutely.  And I will redouble my efforts to get them to produce!

Sweet corn, both OP varieties.  The top is a shoe-peg corn, the bottom a 12 row corn.  I have a lot of trouble growing corn, mainly because I don't grow enough to get them all pollinated.  These two are pretty, though.
Tomatoes.  Broccoli.  Peas.  Herbs.  Corn.  Eggs.  Chicken.  I could go on and on, but I won't.  What I can say is this:  real food tastes nothing like food you've had from any store, ever.  And getting your family to switch to real food and eat real food can be a hassle, especially if you have kids who have been raised on grocery store food.  Our first switch was bread.  When I read the labels, I didn't like what I saw and started to make our bread, years ago.  My kids complained all. the. time.  It had "stuff" in it (like oats).  It was too thick (because they cut it that way).  It was "stiff" and crumbly (because it's homemade).  And on and on.  We stuck with it, and now it's just the way it is.  Now they stalk the oven to get the first hot slice.  But yes, often it's been a struggle to get them to eat food that's been home prepared.  And it only ever stems from the fact that no one else has that, and they're not used to it. 

Trust me, though, they get over it.  After you've fed your children good, real food they begin to like it--and look forward to it.  And then one night you make dinner and it includes the peas they just shelled themselves a few weeks ago, and your son yells "PEEEEEAASSS!!!!!!" when he sees you make them and tells you he wants A LOT, and eats every single one.  Because, after all, they're his peas and he peeled them.  That's when you know you're getting through.

Changing what we eat and producing most of it has really changed things for us around here.  This year, as I add onto the garden square footage again, I am looking forward to seeing what it will produce for us.  How about you?  Are you growing more this year?  What surprised you most about eating from your garden?

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  1. Yup, yup, yup!!!!! I can agree with that! I'd love to sit at the table and talk food/farming with you! But I guess I'll have to settle for reading your blog.
    Great post! Have you ever seen Jamie Olivers Food Revolution? I really enjoyed it!

  2. i always had a "taste" for pure, unprocessed food. since husbands health is not the best, we try to buy most of our (vegetarian) food from local and/or eco farms. last time i started making my own bread, because most store breads does strange things in my tummy. this year i will start with a herb garden, if it works i will expand. and hubby want chickens for eggs. at time i will ask you for tips on that :-)

  3. Wonderful post, thank you! I love the stories about teaching your kids to eat real food. It's a very good point that we don't know what we're eating. After a lot of research and thought, I don't think the filler is because the industrial system is running out of food, it's because it is more profitable. It's an interesting (alarming) thought though. Keep writing!


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