I am a child of modernity. Even though I was born and raised in a state with a rich agricultural history, the idea of eating off of the land was lost on me, save the occasional garden harvest or gifted brown-paper sack of freshly picked tomatoes. We had a small garden growing up, and I remember helping my mother pick cherry tomatoes and green beans. Even today, the smell of a cherry tomato plant is nostalgic. But somewhere down the line, as the demands of daily life grew greater, the garden was put to rest. With two working parents, not to mention a rigorous schedule of extracurricular activities, menus were chosen largely on the basis of convenience. Fresh green beans were replaced with those out of a can. Our pantry was packed with cans of every vegetable you could imagine - kidney beans, corn, stewed tomatoes, beets, and even asparagus. And every now and then we'd have a taste of the processed fare - fish sticks, popcorn shrimp, and chicken pot pies. And of course, we visited McDonald's just like everyone else, and ordered pizzas from Dominoes. I'm not saying we didn't ever have fresh vegetables or enjoy a slow-cooked meal. Fresh kale was one of our favorites. And I remember liking boiled cabbage, even though it doesn't seem like something a kid would like - especially, a kid from the south. You'd suspect I'd covet fried okra or fried green tomatoes. But no, it was the greens that I liked! My dad always told my sister and I, "Greens are good for you. They'll make hair grow on your chest". We had lovely Saturday morning breakfasts that often involved making biscuits from scratch. We waited hungry and salivating for Dad's chili or Mom's pot-roast.
Food should be a large part of every family's life. It's ritualistic. It's communal. The dinner table is where we share our daily triumphs and tribulations. And even though in our own way our family embraced this idea, the reality was that a large portion of our diet involved packaged and processed foods eaten on-the-go. But I hardly think our family was an anomaly. We, like countless others, were simply a reflection of our eating culture. We tend to eat what's easy and convenient. With a culture that puts such an emphasis on productivity, it's easy to see that when we started spending more time at our jobs and running around, food took a back seat. The eating trends of my youth and of today largely mirror our mobility as a culture. Work more. Spend less time in the kitchen. It seems like every new food product developed is designed for this purpose (take Go-Gurt, Hot Pockets, and Lunchables for example).
And what's more, is that our food industry is BIG. And mechanized. Most of us have no idea how our food is being grown. We've taken the small farmer out of the equation, and have encouraged our own detachment from the land. Today's commercial farmer grows corn and soybeans, raping the land of it's nutrients in order to perpetuate a mono-culture. Farm biodiversity is something you seldom see on the large-scale. We import a large portion of our vegetables and fruits from abroad. We eat cattle and chickens who are fed grains they never evolved to eat. The list goes on.
We don't anticipate solving the problems of our industrial agriculture system in the next four months, but we hope to get a better glimpse at small farmers throughout the state who are trying to make a difference. But there are ways everyone can become involved - join your local CSA or visit a farm in your area. Ask your local produce manager if she carries any produce from Alabama. Visit a farmer's market. Drink local wine (some of it, especially the "dry" stuff, isn't half bad).
We hope to have a few more ideas for you in the coming weeks, and we hope you'll follow our gastronomical adventure.
Hey, you! Put down the fish stick!