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Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Food For Thought

The first time we bought fresh milk, it came with cream at the top thick white dollops of pure sweet lusciousness. My then eleven-year-old took one look, however, and went ewww. To appease her offended sensibilities, I offered an on-the-spot explanation of what made conventional milk so conventional. I explained our milk was “non-homogenized." I talked about hormones and grass-fed and conjugated linoleic acid.

See, I know a little about all the things we do to milk on its path from udder to table. We heat it to kill germs, sure, but we also mix up the fats and liquids so they stay blended, or take the fat out completely. And that’s what my child knew milk to be. But milk behaving like milk, milk with cream . . . that freaked her out.

I couldn’t help but think of all the other foods that freak people out in their “real” state. Meat with bones. Fish with skin. Unpeeled funky-shaped carrots. Anything with dirt or blemishes on it. We’ve gotten so used to food that has been altered into “convenience” food that we often have no appetite for food in its natural state.

I think about this a lot at my house. We raise chickens, and so every day I wander out to the nesting boxes and pull out a handful of chicken-temperature eggs; there is no doubt that they recently resided in the 105-degree body of a live bird. When I crack one, the yolk will be deep orange from all the carrot peelings and collard stalks and past-its-prime spinach in their diet. Chickens are also one of nature’s finest protein conversion machines grubs and caterpillars and roaches go in, fresh eggs come out.

Some people don’t want to know this about their eggs, much less the rest of the food in their pantries and refrigerators. My grandparents wouldn’t have understood such a thing. Their field-to-table existence wasn’t a lifestyle it was survival. Gourmet buzz words of today phrases like “wild caught” and “sustainably grown” and “free range” were unnecessary to describe how they ate because there was no other way to eat. There was no separation between eater and eaten. It was an intimate, often brutal, relationship. Food never came cheaply, and its cost was calibrated by the labor it took to produce it.

Now my husband works for approximately thirty seconds to earn a can of beans. I buy them in an air-conditioned store, heat them in a pan on an electric stove, and serve them to my family without ever glimpsing the hands that picked or packaged them. I consume them in complete ignorance. And that is a cost indeed.

This is why I make it a point to shop the Farmer’s Market and buy organic when I have that option. Ditto free range and cage-free and sustainably harvested. Critics ridicule these terms as foodie indulgences, out of reach for people with average pocketbooks. Not activism, but an elite “I’m so special I deserve special food” entitlement.

I see that attitude sometimes, but it’s a perversion of what “sustainable food” really means. Sustainable agriculture is never about the individual, always about the collective. Not about one stomach or one set of taste buds, but about hundreds.

We went to the farmer’s market again last Saturday, and we bought some more non-homogenized milk (my daughter drinks it right down, now that she knows its story). As I mingled in the crowd with my peas and okra and soap made with local olive oil, I saw a sign posted by one of the farms: “Be curious about your food."

Excellent advice for all of us.

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Tina Whittle writes the Tai Randolph mysteries for Poisoned Pen Press. The sixth book in this Atlanta-based series—Necessary Ends—is available now. Tina is a proud member of Sisters in Crime and serves as both a chapter officer and national board member. Visit her website to follow her on social media, sign up for her newsletter, or read additional scenes and short stories:


Annette said...

Excellent advice all the way around.

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

very timely! I remember telling my kids that the "baby carrots" in their packed lunches were picked early. Hah! An enterprising farmer using a cucumber cutter figured out a way to make ugly carrots saleable. And now they account for 70% of all carrots sold.

"Baby" v. "Baby cut" carrots. There's a huge difference.

Kait said...

Wonderful blog, Tina! Your daughter's reaction is priceless. Real food does taste different, too. Good for you. Be curious and eat local and seasonal.

Liz Milliron said...

We did a garden for several years so our kids could learn where food (at least vegetables) come from. We've frequently bought fish with skins, and they know that meat doesn't come from a grocery store, all neatly wrapped.

My daughter, however, is now on a kick that "red meat is bad for the environment" so she's resisting eating it. She does not, however, want to supplement the iron with other iron-rich foods (like spinach and beans), so I'm forcing her to eat *some* red meat. I've known too many people who get a severe iron deficiency because they don't balance their diets - and a One-a-day vitamin isn't sufficient.

They've never had un-homogenized milk, though. Just never bought it.

Warren Bull said...

There is a joke about a man from the big city who visited a farm many years ago and found a stack of glass milk bottles. "Look," he said. "A cow's nest."

Jim Jackson said...

My daughter understood where her food came from and has been vegetarian since junior high. One of my granddaughters is "Pescatarian" -- not sure why fish and not other critters, but it works for her. Her younger sister is a big-time carnivore, so it's not that we push one thing or another!

Gloria Alden said...

Tina, a very good blog, and it's making me hungry now.

I make sure I eat at least five to six different kinds of vegetables a day. A Farmer's market is up on the Court House square in the capital city of our county on Tuesday afternoons. I haven't gone yet, but I am going today. As for chickens, I've had chickens for years and years. Unfortunately, I'm down to only three old hens, but they're still laying and since I live alone except for my critters, I can't eat all the eggs they lay so I often give a dozen eggs to my sister-in-law or my daughter and her family. I know I can't buy chicks because of the pecking order, my old hens would not treat them well, but I'm hoping someone will have at least one or two grown hens to give me.

KM Rockwood said...

When I taught in an inner city school, many of the kids had little concept of where the food came from before it hit the store. The furthest back they could go was often the delivery truck, and thy knew that these were dangerous jobs. If a "route man" left the truck unattended to make a delivery, it would be empty by the time he came back. So most of them stayed with the truck & phoned into the store to have someone come out & pick up the delivery. Since many of the small stores where the kids' families got their food were operated by Korean families, they speculated that Korea was the source of much of our food. But animals and plants? No way!

Tina said...

Thank you all for sharing your stories -- nothing connects us like sharing food and all the good things associated with it.