Have found new meaning in life

Always a good thing, non? Remember that one time when I sat through a Relief Society lesson about how it's important to be self-sufficient and to can peaches?

Here were my questions:

What's up with canning and all that? Why should we do it? If I already have a year's supply of peaches from Costco then shouldn't I be good? Why on this sweet earth should I spend a Saturday up to my elbows in sticky nastiness just to give myself botulism? I mean, if you like to do those things and you like knowing where your food comes from and it gives you a feeling of satisfaction, then that's wonderful and I say more power to you. But what if you just don't care?

So that's the question I really wanted to ask, even though there was no time for it: If you really could not care less about this stuff and you can get your food/clothing needs met in other ways, why bother with it? Should we learn just because you never know what might happen and it's good to have as many self-reliance-type skills as possible? Because I actually can accept that as a reason. I just want to know if there are others.

So that's where I was at.

Then a couple of weeks ago I read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. The School Library Journal's review of the book says, "Give this title to budding Martha Stewarts, green-leaning fans of Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth, and kids outraged by Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation." Which, me . . . me . . . me . . . Only they should also have included "Mormons who need a reason to care about canning."

Because oh friends, I now care. This was one of those books where I kept calling people up and saying, "And then do you know what the Man did???"

The premise is that Kingsolver and her family packed up and moved from Tucson, Arizona to a farm in the Appalachian mountains. They felt that after so many years of living in the middle of the desert they'd made enough of an environmental footprint (all their food has to be imported in from other places, because hi, desert) and were ready for a change. So their experiment was to see if, for a year, they could live comfortably on foods that they either produced themselves or which came from local sources. For them a big part of it was not wanting to waste fossil fuel and other natural resources to feed themselves. They did cheat by buying olive oil & spices that come from other places, but for the most part they stuck to their guns for the experiment. And they seemed to eat pret-ty darn well, it seemed to me.

Barbara Kingsolver is a fiction writer who wrote, among other things, The Bean Trees and The Poisonwood Bible. I will be honest and say that there are a few places where she comes off just a bit too "Hey, remember the part where I'm a really deep author? Because I am. Check me out with my deep descriptions."

Anyway. It was kind of fascinating. Because Kingsolver not only writes about her family's experience, but she talks about the larger picture of food production in our country and where we're headed as a people. Answer: Nowhere good. She makes the point that in just a couple of generations we have lost a lot of the knowledge and skills that are needed to produce food. Much of the US farmland has been moved into crops like soy and corn, which are nice and all but won't actually cut it if our food importation channels break down. (ps. And then so all that corn and soy aren't getting wasted they put them in all of our foods, which makes us fat. Thanks for that, America.) And if/when our current system of food-getting fails, we're going to be in trouble. We can do without electricity but it's a bit harder to do without food.

You also read about the benefits of buying local fruits and vegetables and of eating these things in their season. A few benefits:

You keep your neighbors in business, which helps your local economy, schools, libraries, etc.

Foods taste better when they're in season. You're a lot more likely to want to eat your veggies when they actually taste good. You know how you're always excited to see your summer clothes when you pull them out of storage? It's like that. Because you get to wear them when it's the perfect time for them, and then you pack them up again before they have a chance to bore you. And then it's time to be excited for fall clothes.

You enjoy more variety, rather than only eating the few breeds of fruits and vegetables which have been deemed hardy enough to survive thousand-mile trips and uniform enough to look nice in the supermarket. Example: the delicious and very cool-looking heirloom tomatoes I bought at the farmer's market on Saturday. They have names like Jubilee and Pink Girl and Brandywine. Last night I made pasta primavera with my farmer's market tomatoes, squash, and zucchini. It was fabulous.

You get better information about where your food has been, how it was raised, and what's been done to it. Or what hasn't been done to it, as the case may be. Or what it might do to you. Who doesn't love eating wax with their apples? Who doesn't love wondering if animal remains and feces were part of your beef's diet?

You help the environment, because you're not wasting loads and loads of gas having your food trucked in.

You're not exploiting people in developing countries who work under awful conditions for terrible wages and then ship all the food they've produced to us.

The more you support local food, the more local food your neighbors can produce, which leads to even more tasty local options for you, the consumer. And then it's like this big food love fest.

You get to stick it to The Man. Which, really, for me is always one of the best reasons to do things. Did you know that there are varieties of tomato which have been genetically engineered to produce sterile seeds? That way you can't save them and plant them the next year--you have to buy more from the seed company. That kind of crap just enrages me, no matter what form it takes. If food is becoming a form of intellectual property, what's next? Killing babies, that's what.

Yes, it can be more expensive to buy local rather than going through Wal-Mart. But the very reason that stuff is cheap is possibly because it isn't very good, it might kill you, and because the farmers have been screwed over. And even if you don't have the space or resources to grow the stuff yourself, you can still support the farmers who are Fighting the Good Fight.

Now let's reintroduce the canning thing. This way you can still enjoy all those lovely seasonal local foods during the off-season times. Kingsolver recommends buying up all the local stuff you can find at the end of the summer to can or freeze. The farmers win because they are able to sell everything from that year's harvest, which means they can invest in next year's. We win because we have a freezer/pantry full of good stuff at very good prices.

So yes. It gave me lots to think about. I can't start growing all my food in the back yard, but I can do some things. A coworker gave me two bags of corn from her garden, so I froze them in freezer bags. I found Utah peaches at the grocery store, so I bought a few pounds and froze them. My neighbor has two apple trees which hang over into my yard. I've been picking fruit for the last couple of weeks and eating it with lunches and breakfast, but I think it's time for a real harvest.

This, to me, feels pretty cool. Because I'm getting these guys when they're absolutely at their best flavor, I'm getting them for practically nothing, and I haven't wasted anything or exploited anyone. And I'm being a force for social change. Next year I might even try it with jars and everything.


FoxyJ said... [reply]

There was recently an intriguing Op-Ed piece in the NY Times about how sometimes local food actually isn't the best thing for the environment. For example, it takes more fossil fuel (in the form of fertilizers, pesticides, etc) and more water to raise sheep in England than it does to ship lamb meat from New Zealand. Interesting.

The issue of food supply and the environment is very, very complicated. But, I'm all for eating more unprocessed food, eating more seasonal fruits and veggies, shunning evil corporations, eating less corn syrup, and buying organic.And canning. I actually really like canning and freezing food. Next summer you should make freezer jam. It's super easy, and they sell the pectin in small enough packages that you can just use a few berries and make 3 or 4 jars of jam. Just enough to get you through the next year. Yum!

My big question is if eating local is supposedly cheaper, why is fish so darn expensive here in Seattle? :)

Azúcar said... [reply]

I think our brains were separated at birth...or something.

High fructose corn syrup scares the crap out of me.

coolmom said... [reply]

I think fish is so darn expensive everywhere for a few reasons. The fishing industry is protected because it's so risky and because they can get away with it. Fish is trendy right now, although we've always eaten it in our family. There's probably a gas issue in there somewhere. We are paying $14 a pound for halibut that is practically pulled out of our back yard. But a charter to catch your own is $250, plus the cost of a license and then processing costs. A decent food save is over $100. So even catching your own is a bit of a gamble.

Here, here for canning. Freezing food and making jam is as easy as it gets. Smoking fish is pretty easy too, but you need a smoker. Or a mom with a smoker. Hot water bath canning is super easy as well for all those extra tomatoes and applesauce as well as a variety of other stuff. I made my own relish for the first time last year and it was so easy and so fun. This why we must all live close and have gardens. I planted about 20 raspberry vines this year. There is jam in my future.

Science Teacher Mommy said... [reply]

Plantboy and I went to our Farmer's Market "downtown" last weekend. It was brilliant. It is also opened year round. I'll definitely read this book. Maybe it will be our next husband-wife read aloud. It sounds like our kind of thing. Plantboy's freezer jam is exceptional; if you don't want to go to the effort, the good local brand in your neck of the woods is Weeks'--sold at Old Gristmill.

My first teaching job was AP Environmental Science. I learned so much--I took my kids to the water treatment plant, on hikes, and to the state legislature during a session. It was a blast. We had discussions about ways to control populations and it was a class project to go vegetarian (or vegan) for two weeks. My kids were required to do a big service project to end out the year.
Unfortunately, I had to switch schools after just a year, but I hope to get the chance again. I feel like I know so much more now than I did then. And I really felt like I made a difference. I ran into one of my former students at the temple grounds just before I moved from L**** last spring and he is getting a master's degree in Environmental Studies, hoping to pursue a PhD in the same.

And the Al Gore movie scared the crap out of me.

AuD said... [reply]

Where is the L**** farmer's market? I am missing the stuff I got around Portland.

Desmama said... [reply]

And you know who can completely help you with canning those peaches or putting up jam?

Oh yeah.

Cicada said... [reply]

You make me a believer. I think I'd like to read that book.

Oh, but don't get chickens and raise them in your backyard. Because the neighbors tell on you. Then they go make their meth.

Rebekah said... [reply]

Well, I found you blog through MBC of Librarian Pants and I have to say that your list of favorite books just made my day. Bridget Jones and Ella Minnow Pea! I'll no longer hang my head in shame.

Rebekah said... [reply]

Ooh, also, have you read The World Without Us by Alan Weisman? It's all about how humans have tried to alter and repress nature, and how quickly nature would bounce back if we all disappeared tomorrow.

bawb said... [reply]

Great post; great comments.

Funny thing--I get my tomatoes from Arizona.

Palomita said... [reply]

Also, a plug for gardening - there's nothing like digging in the dirt (or checking on pots on your patio or balcony, which I have also done), and looking to see what grew overnight. Very satisfying. Only thing that's more is eating it!

And, the only thing that scares me more than cornsyrup? Hydrogenated fats! EWWWWW!

ambrosia ananas said... [reply]

Yes, great post. Also, great comment, Foxy. I'm delighted to read such right-mindedness from both of you instead of the usual maniacal rants I see on this subject. ("If you don't eat only local NOW, the Earth will explode tomorrow!")

And yeah. My mom just gave me her pressure cooker, and I'm dying to go to the FM and find something to can. Except I think I'm still doing my peaches the Costco way.

Also, it's terrifying to realize how little our society knows about farming.

Rynell said... [reply]

I whole heartedly agree.
I will read this book, it looks like it reaffirms my own ideas. Hey, who doesn't like their own ideas reaffirmed?

High fructose corn syrup also terrifies me. So does MSG, which I thought only went by the name "mono sodium glutamate" but I have recently learned it goes by a hundred or so other names so that it can efficiently hide on lables. Yeah, Thanks America.

I'm off to my local farm stand.

daltongirl said... [reply]

1. Soy is one of the foods that absorbs and retains the most pesticides. So not only are you getting fat from soy being used in everything, you're getting more carcinogens.

2. WalMart is a horrible, horrible store that is committed to destroying public education in this country. No one should shop there, no matter how cheap their stuff is. Also, let's address the Chinese sweatshop issue when you're done with this one.

3. I got two bushels of peaches yesterday. I picked them myself, and they are fresh, sweet, and beautiful. I can't wait to can them tomorrow. Because we are going to have tasty, healthy peaches all winter long.

4. I heard B.K. read twice. She's pretty pretty cool. She probably got the idea for this new book from me, because I have thought a lot about this issue. I may or may not have mentioned it to her when I stood in line for her autograph. Even if I didn't, I bet she sensed my concern.

5. Thanks, Cicada, for bringing up the chickens. While you're at it, why don't you give me a paper cut and pour lemon juice in it?

6. Hydrogenated anything = MSG. And, as Rynell said, so do about a million other things.

.::still blinking::. said... [reply]

azucar, what is wrong with high fructose corn syrup? I have heard of people removing it completely from their diets, but why?

Also, I make my own spaghetti sauce with tomatoes and zucchini I pulled from my own garden and it is so good. It could be all the good karma that makes it taste better. I put it in freezer bags and throw it in the freezer.

Nemesis said... [reply]

Azucar will probably have better information than I will, but there's an interesting Wikipedia article about the subject.

The short version of the article: Corn syrup is much cheaper to produce because of the United States' corn and farm subsidies. The government also made it more expensive to import sugar, thus creating a demand for their own product (corn and corn syrup). So it's replacing sugar in a lot of foods. And it's being dumped into foods that don't necessarily need it, thus increasing the caloric content of our foods.

Some argue that corn syrup, with its higher levels of fructose, is worse for you than cane sugar. Or at least the way it's being dumped into our foods encourages overconsumption.

Kelly said... [reply]

I just bought this book myself and am really looking forward to reading it.

If you haven't yet, you should also read The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan. I heard an interview with him when the Farm Bill was up for renewal and he just said he's not saying there shouldn't be farmer subsidies, but could we maybe subsidize healthy food instead of tons and tons of corn and soybeans? Amen.

Lady Steed said... [reply]

I am looking forward to reading this book. I remember when it came out earlier this year and Ms. Kingslover was on just about every single NPR talk show discussing her big experiment. (I think I heard every single interview with her as NPR was all I listened to while I was prepping and painting that Big O's room). She's a very good interview. If anyone doesn't want to go and read the book right away, I suggest listening to these interviews. You'll get all the important info.

I am also looking forward to reading Omnivore's Dilemma by Micheal Pollan. Our Relief Society Book group read it back in May, but I didn't read it then because I was too cheap to buy a copy and the waiting list at the library was about 50 people long.But the discussion was excellent and now that it's finally off the NY Times bestseller top ten, I might be able to check it out from the library, or at least find a paperback copy.

Yay for you taking action!

miranda said... [reply]

My family's been off WalMart for more than a year, and we're actually SAVING money (no impulse buys!) overall. We buy local at the gardener's market and we get organic foods at Sweet Peas here in Logan, which also offers local stuff. We also feel better because we're not eating processed foods in near the quantities we used to.

miranda said... [reply]

Oh, and we garden too. Tasty! And there's more room for it now that we've bought a new house...

Anonymous said... [reply]

Don't get me started on MSG. My Dad is allergic to all forms. Carageenan is a swear word in our dictionary. Its the stabilizer that they put in most milk products.

You should look up carageenan and msg. Its amazing what reactions some people, and some children have to it. Headaches and migraines, hyperactivity, and in my Dad, Arrhythmia.

I live next door to my parents. They offered us our dream. A whole acre of property to call our own. They also have a small fruit orchard of 10 or so trees and a berry patch that they share with us :)

Anyway, last night I cooked a new dish out of my new healthy and (sometimes) quick cookbook. It had basic ingredients such as eggs, pinto beans, cheddar cheese, sour cream (Daisy light, only a couple of ingredients!) and corn to name a few.

I made way to much for my family and offered a bunch to my parents. This led to a quick scan of ingredients (didn't want to make Dad sick). I was stunned to discover that the basic can of red pinto beans had corn syrup.

What is up with that!!!!!


chosha said... [reply]

But see here is the point that you (and Kingsolver) get: you don't just can because 'everyone cans' and because using all your precious time to save 15 cents a can makes sense (because it doesn't). The kinds of principles you're talking about (buying local, eating fruit you know was grown in season, learning and preserving certain knowledge and skills) might actually be a good enough reason to sacrifice some time and effort.

I'm not anti-canning. It's just the sheep mentality that makes me scowl.

Lady J said... [reply]

Ah Miss Nem - You have seen the light at last! (Remember my comment about what I am snobbish about when you asked a month or two ago? - Local produce, fair trade bananas and free-range meat.) Well done for effectively spreading the word!

Nemesis said... [reply]

Hello, Lady J! Yes, I definitely thought of you and your fair-trade bananas when I was writing this. :-)

Kim said... [reply]

I generally find that sticking it to the Man is a perfect reason for doing pretty much anything. LOL Oh, and I also happen to agree with buying local. Keep fighting the good fight!

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