When I decided to live the locavore diet for a month, it hardly seemed worth the bother. I have a garden, my chickens provide eggs, my pantry is stocked with beans, peas, potatoes, apples, peaches, and other goodies that I preserved last year. A plethora of small farms in my rural county would surely offer everything else I needed to see me through July.
A caffeine addict, I gradually weaned myself from coffee. I managed to convince a local farmer who raises dairy goats to sell me a half gallon of raw milk and we both gloated about our act of civil disobedience. A local herb grower wasn’t quite brave enough to tempt the Food and Drug Administration by selling me a tea blend (although it would be perfectly legal for her to sell me the individual herbs which I could then mix together for my morning cuppa), and one lone wheat farmer made it possible for me to have fresh bread.
All in all, it was not much of a challenge. I already knew I’d be eating a healthier diet, what with the refined white sugar gone from the menu. I knew that I’d be supporting small local farms, that I’d meet interesting people, and that I’d have to make up excuses for not joining friends at local restaurants because ‘I’m eating only locally grown food this month’ would require far too much explanation.
And there’s the problem, you see. When I did say that, the responses ran the gamut from ‘They have salad’ to ‘Well, the restaurant is right in the middle of town. That’s local.’ There is a vast disconnect between what we know of food and what we put into our bodies.
In certain circles, the phrase food security pops up all the time. There’s a widespread belief that people all over America are starving, that they don’t know where their next meal will come from. I suggest that most people don’t know where their meals come from; they don’t have a clear idea of where food originates or even what food truly is.
In small towns like the one where I live, every non-profit is greatly underfunded. I recently retired from one of them. In order to save money, we shared office space with other local programs including the food pantry. There are those who access the free food boxes once or twice in their lifetimes, when they’ve hit a rough patch financially. And there are others who make a regular stop to pick up the food box as often as the program’s guidelines allow.
Now these emergency food boxes contain a standard collection of items – canned meat and vegetables, rice, dried beans, instant oatmeal, that sort of thing. The canned and instant food works for most everyone, but an astoundingly large number of recipients are baffled by the dried beans; they don’t know how to cook them.
More often than you’d believe, the recipients of the emergency food box (who are there, remember, because they assert that they have nothing to eat) will go through the box and remove anything they don’t like. Others will request special items – peanut butter with the jelly already mixed in, for instance, because that’s easier to use than peanut butter from one jar and jelly from another.
One very nice lady collected her food box one day and returned the next day with pounds and pounds of apples for all of us. These were apples she didn’t want from a tree in her yard.
As most of our mothers said, if you’re hungry enough you’ll eat anything. That’s probably true, but you’ll eat it only if you recognize it as food.
Lest you think it’s only lower income families that have lost touch with basic self-reliance, I’ll tell you that mine is the only garden in my middle class neighborhood. I see the Schwann’s truck making regular deliveries to the mini-mansion next door, however.
This is the world in which we live. Two-thirds of adults and 15% of children are obese. Heart disease, diabetes, and a host of nutrition-related syndromes we’d never heard of 25 years ago are rampant. A recent study by McMaster University confirms that emotional disorders, such as anxiety and depression, are related to eating habits.
Meanwhile small farms are disappearing as corporate farms gobble up land and resources; communities are disintegrating; across the board, we are losing our ability to provide for ourselves.
In a very short period of time, we have developed a form of learned helplessness that leaves us dependent upon handouts for our sustenance. Whether handed out at the local food bank or at the drive-through window, we have become Eloi to the Morlock food industry.
When we can’t feed ourselves, when we depend upon social services organizations to dole out a box of canned tuna and soggy pastry, when we don’t know how to cook beans, we cannot possibly enjoy food freedom. By extension, when we are dependent upon others for food, we are at the mercy of any individual or entity that provides it.
The easiest way to enslave a people is to have them voluntarily relinquish their ability to take care of themselves. Food for thought…
Deborah Adams is a writer, recently retired from the field of social services, and a proponent of sustainable lifestyles. Her blog Notes From Dry Creek Farm (where the crazy chicken lady is single-handedly saving the planet) www.deborah-adams.com chronicles her adventures.