I spend a lot of time thinking about what our family eats. We raise our own meat, we have a veggie share from a local farm during the local growing season and I preserve whatever we don’t eat. We even grow a tomato garden and can our own tomatoes for winter. I read the back of almost every package we buy in the grocery store (though we try to avoid packages if at all possible). I put a lot of effort in to this and my children understand why. It’s conversation for us in the grocery store and at the dinner table. We value putting high quality ingredients into our body. So this is why I have such a hard time when other (well intentioned) people give my beautiful boys candy. It’s a treat for helping around the farm, a treat for getting together at a cub scout event, from friends for their birthday, from their teacher because they did well in school (!?), from their friends on Valentine’s Day and Halloween. “Treats,” people say. “It’s only one day,” people say. Here’s my perspective: These “treats” contain sugar, artificial colors and artificial flavors that I believe (from the research I’ve done) are VERY BAD for my kids’ bodies. So I actually don’t consider most candy “treats” and I don’t call them that in our house. But I don’t like to say no to my kids. It’s hard to take candy out of their mouths. Please don’t make me have to do this. Please value my kids as much as I do and don’t feed them junk food with poison in it. And I promise not to feed yours these low quality ingredients. I’ll show my love and appreciation for kids with hugs and kind words than toxic chemicals any day. I mean, look at these guys. I only want the best for them.
Yesterday, Californians voted no to getting more information about their food. The question on their ballot asked if citizens of California wanted food companies to label Genetically Modified Foods. And they voted no. Some people think GMO are good for the environment (they can reduce herbicides and pesticide usage) and good for our growing world (they can feed more people globally). I think they’re crazy. I’ve read about their studies and understand what they are trying to accomplish, but sometimes you just have to go with your gut. The bottom line is: I don’t want to feed my family or myself GMOs. Easy, right? Not so much. What foods are genetically modified, or have GMOs in them? If you turn the package of ketchup over (with 4 boys, we go through lots of this stuff), the label doesn’t read “Genetically Modified High Fructose Corn Syrup” as the second ingredient. But I know that about 45 percent of corn grown in the US is genetically modified (as well as about 85 percent of soy). So is it, or isn’t it? For now, we won’t know – even in California. Their reluctance for labeling should give us some clue they have something to hide, but instead of relying on (or legislating) food companies to come clean with this information, I have another solution. Don’t buy packages; buy ingredients. For now, there are no genetically modified fruits and vegetables and if you stick to animals that were raised on pasture, you can avoid meat that was fed GMOs. If we can stay away from corn, soy, and canola (we are also producing GMO cotton in this country but I don’t think anyone is eating it), we can avoid almost all GMOs. If we vote with our dollars to say NO to GMOs, food companies will respond by not using them. Then biotech companies will respond with not making them. It’s important for our own health, the health of the animals we eat and the land on which our food grows. So I'm disappointed, California, but I'll continue on with my own strategy to defeat GMOs myself.
When my husband and I started dating, I didn’t know anything about cooking. I grew up on pre-prepared food – macaroni and cheese, bags of salad, frozen fish sticks, jars of sauce. When I went to college I still didn’t cook for myself. I was the only one I knew who stayed on the university meal plan for all 4 years. What wasn’t to like about someone else cooking for you every day? And after 3 more years of 20-something-single-life-in-the-city, I had eaten more take out than I’d like to remember. My new beau was the first to suggest to me that we make spaghetti sauce out of… tomatoes! Over the past 14 years, I’ve come a long way.
It can seem difficult at first: my habit was to buy something pre-made at the grocery store, so cooking an entire meal from scratch seemed daunting. But I made little changes, teaching myself, taking pride and celebrating each accomplishment (who knew that jar of Prego was just a can of tomatoes, some garlic and Italian spices). I started reading the cookbooks in my closet – they’re full of fascinating information! Not just the recipes, but facts and techniques. I watched the Food Network whenever I could. And I relied on food mentors like my former boss, Stacey. Once I gained some skills, I began to apply them to lots of different circumstances. For example – I know how to make a flavorful braising sauce. So now I can use that braising sauce to cook chicken legs, a bottom round beef roast, or a pork shoulder. I know that cilantro and lime are the back bones of Mexican food; basil and oregano for Italian. So I can take whatever I have and turn it into something delicious. And I don’t have to pay someone else to prepare and package it for me. The best news is: I know what is in my food and where it came from.
The more I started to get to know different ingredients, the more I wanted to know how they were grown and when they were in season. That lead me to grow it myself or look to a neighbor/farmer to buy it. The more I knew about how the plant or animal grew, I began to respect that food and not want to waste any of it. Do you know how big a broccoli plant is (and how much real estate it takes up in the garden) compared to that little broccoli crown in the grocery store? Knowing stuff like this makes me want to make a broccoli slaw out of the stems. And this goes for so many other foods… bones, fat, feet, everything gets used in our house. Information like this leads us all to be better consumers.
The bottom line for me is: if it goes in your body, it is absolutely important to know what it is, where it comes from, and why you are putting it in your mouth in the first place (what nutritional value it has). If you have that frame of reference when you are looking at a Twinkie or a strawberry, it helps you make the better choice! Hopefully it also makes joining a CSA or shopping from a local farmer’s market sound more exciting. If you don’t consider yourself a cook yet, I hope you’ll think about giving it a try. It’s such an exciting time of year to be cooking (and eating) fresh, local ingredients.
Hey – if I can do it, you can do it.
A blog about farming and food. Kate Bogli owns and operates Maple View Farm, raising livestock and growing veggies, with her husband Jason. The farm has been in his family for 65 years.