Why do we bother?
All this extra work and time spent making, baking, prepping, tending, feeding and watering. It seems like a lot - and sometimes it is. Sometimes it is exhausting and I don't really want any part of it.
Then I read the news.
Every time I turn around there is another outbreak. Another illness that is plaguing one industry or another. Swine flu in China has caused them to cull thousands of pigs. Listeria outbreaks on plums, peaches, and nectarines. CDC warnings for lettuce. These things do happen, and it gets dealt with and we move on. But then consider things like the growth in gluten intolerance - is this all just random? Or, is there something we're missing?
The more I hear, and the more I read, the more my awareness of questionable ingredients, and practices is enlightened. Just because something states that it is "organic" doesn't always mean that it is a good purchase, even with the marked up price tag (some organic is good and real!). For instance, a meat chicken might never go outside it's whole life and still be considered organic. In today's market, with so many options for so many consumers, you really have to do your research if you want to know what you are consuming.
For example, in one of the chicken groups I follow on social media (a helpful community resource) one woman posted the following:
"[I] Quit my job as an advisor for an organic farm. For everyone that thinks organic farms are all they're cracked up to be. I couldn't take it anymore. Ocular Marek's disease. Cloacitis. Birds starving because the organic certifying agent says the birds are only allowed so much food per day. "
Organic is a broad statement, and unless you truly read up on the product and/or practices, it's not always what it's cracked up to be. Now I do understand that there has to be enough chicken to go around, and feed the masses.... But if anyone wants to question why and how we could possibly eat birds that we raise, this is it... you really don't know what you're eating unless you know the farmer who raised it. If you can raise your own, it's a great thing to do. We are still a work in progress, and we do still have to shop at the grocery store for many of these items, but hopefully in time we will more and more be able to rely upon ourselves.
Take a look at the label the next time you visit the local marketplace. You'll be surprised by the number of ingredients that go into relatively simple items, such as bread or coffee creamer. When I see these articles, or read those labels, I am reminded of how grateful I am for our garden. I am so grateful that I don't need to worry about food born illness from my lettuce because I grew it myself in the open air, with no pesticides and it is safe for consumption. And, I'm reminded why we take the extra time and put in the extra work to make so many things ourselves.
If I can't grow it myself, then I do try to make sure I know what I'm buying, and make choices that are informed before biting in, as often as my budget allows for. If I can't grow it myself, I try to source it from other local places when I can get to them. If I can't grow it myself, I ensure that it gets a good inspection, and I make an effort to buy whole foods, not imitations of the real thing. Sometimes you may well find store-bought varieties in my pantry, and that's because I do run out of time some weeks, and we have budgets to stick to! The more often you do try though, the better, in a world where you don't have to try at all.
Focusing on the basics, is, in my opinion, the best place to start. Your staples - the things you use close to every day. As I've come to discover, these items are usually pretty easy to make yourself, and doing it that way means fewer purchases at the store, and better food in your belly.
Butter for example - if I buy heavy cream, now I have heavy cream, butter, and butter milk out of just one product - just one purchase! I just saved myself money by having the know-how to make those things, and the only ingredients I need to question are the ones making up the heavy cream. So, as long I know that's good, I'm in the clear. You can then look at bread - if I buy flour to keep handy anyway, and I have salt, eggs (from my yard!), and water.... All I need is a little yeast, and an hour or so each week to make my own bread sans preservatives (like I said, though, I don't always have a spare hour). You can usually multitask while doing this, too as it takes time for the bread to rise and bake. Try berries - if I have a berry bush in my yard (plant one this Spring!) I can make my own pie filling, jam, snacks, dessert toppings.... The list goes on. Tap a few trees, get your own pure maple syrup - I promise it will taste better and be more fulfilling because you did it yourself (oh - and you can use that buttermilk you made, in the pancake mix, too).
In the end, none of these tasks are actually all that hard. Most of them are even kind of fun, especially when you do them as a family. They make great traditions, and the more you experiment with, the more you have to look forward to each different season. It's quality time, with teachable life lessons, that instill hard work and craftsmenship, passion, and hobbies that require problem solving, heart, and artistry. There is no better reason to get together, than to gather around the table and share in our bounties. We all have something to bring to the table. Food, when appreciated and understood can be one of life's greatest accomplishments and can change our lives from the ground, up.
(images for this post, provided by Wix)