Monday, March 23, 2015

The Story of a Meal

I have been terrible about getting back into this space to talk about how our journey into the world of eating food grown by people we know has been going.  It isn't that we have stopped eating local food, in fact we are eating more than ever with more and more of the remaining grocery store buys being organic.  There have been two nights in the last week when I look at the dinner table and realize that except for the salt and pepper I know exactly where every ingredient of every dish on the table came from and most meals I at least know something about the sourcing.  I keep meaning to come back and write a post about how lovely "grocery shopping" has become for us now that the vast majority of our food comes from small, local farms.  Someday I will write about picking up our CSA share in a lovely, shaded courtyard with friendly people, live music, and space for the kids to run a bit while I stop to chat.  Someday I hope to write about how much easier it is to "shop" the freezer for meat instead of wrangling 3 kids out the door and into carseats to go to the grocery store.  I'd love to share how nice it is to knead bread at the kitchen counter or mix up a batch of granola bars while watching the kids playing in the living room until I call them in to lick the bowl.  I've already shared how easy it is to make granola at home, and let me tell you, even fancy granola is cheap compared to how much breakfast cereal 3 growing kids can eat.
L enjoying homemade granola for breakfast

However, all of that will wait.  Right now I want to tell another story, the story of the meal we ate tonight.  Tonight I planned to take my first dance class since A was born.  Since the class wasn't until later we had time for dinner together as long as I made sure to have everything ready a touch early.  For me this means using downtime in either the morning or early afternoon to get something going that can simmer because once we hit the "witching hour" all bets on punctuality are off.  After a quick rummage through the fridge I planned on making beef stew.  I should have started making it this morning, but I forgot to thaw the beef and then promptly forgot again.  This left me with a frozen hunk of meat and a sudden sinking feeling at about 3pm.  Luckily L was still napping and the big kids were playing happily so I grabbed the beef and thawed it partway in the microwave and started chopping veggies.  Once the meat was reasonably thawed I reached into the fridge to grab some lard to brown the beef since it is really stable at high temperatures.  That was when I started thinking.  As I spooned some lard out of the jar I remembered the grey day when I rendered lard for the first time occasionally texting my sister for advice on how to go about this arcane practice.  The lard I was using to brown the beef tonight had started out as pig fat from a pastured pig in the next county over that I'd picked up at our CSA.  Then I tossed in the beef and it reminded me of meeting the farmer in a parking lot to pick it up and also of visiting his farm 1.5 hours away.  I can still picture the tall grass of the pastures against the backdrop of beautiful mountains.  As I chopped the vegetables I smiled at the turnips that I grew myself, the first success I have ever had growing root vegetables.  I also remembered just a couple of weeks ago walking through the fields where our CSA veggies are grown with my family.  I will admit to grinning as I remembered my shy 3 year old running up to give the farmer a giant hug because, in his world, Farmer Frank is where all the good vegetables come from.  As I poured in the last of a bottle of wine to deglaze the pan I thought of the friend who had brought it over on Friday and the fun that was had that evening.  I added some water and herbs from my garden that had been dried on the dehydrator that my husband's grandmother had decluttered in our direction (for which I am still thankful) and then I put the lid on and went to spend time with my kids.  As I was working I realized how much nicer cooking was when making a meal for my family is a trip down memory lane instead of one more chore.  In many ways, even more than the health benefits that we gain from eating better foods, these connections and memories make it worth the effort we have put in to sourcing our food.  This was a story that I felt I should share.  As we sat down to eat I warned my husband that I wanted to carve out a chunk of time to blog this story, then we ate, I hugged everyone goodbye and went to dance.
A wants everyone just how good homemade breakfast
sausage can be.

In the car I took advantage of the kid free car ride to listen to NPR.  One of the news blurbs mentioned that glyphosphate (a major ingredient in the herbicide Roundup) has been labeled a "probable carcinogen" by the WHO.  I know just how heavily this herbicide is used in conventional agriculture and my knee-jerk reaction was to worry about what kind of exposure my kids were getting and what I might do to reduce that exposure until the science was more firm one way or another.  That was when I realized, not only are dinners like the one we had tonight more enjoyable to cook and to eat, but they also mean that I don't have to worry.  I know for a fact that my kids (as well as my husband and myself) are getting little or no exposure to glyphosphate or any other pesticides.*  I know the farms where our food comes from and I know how the farmers that grow our food approach things like weeds, problem insects, and animal husbandry.  I was suddenly so thankful that I wanted to share.  More importantly, I wanted to encourage anyone who would listen to at least consider the moving down the path that we are on.  Your path doesn't have to look like ours, but even the smallest steps add up.  Even if you don't ever see yourself baking your own bread or sticking with what produce is available locally and eating strictly seasonally (which we don't do yet), you can still take small steps away from a system that puts a lower priority on the health of workers, consumers, land and animals than on making money.  I only hope that if you do your journey will be as good for you as our journey has been for us.  Our journey hasn't been a fast one, but it has slowly added joy, health and simplicity while reducing worry and even (to some extent) cost.  And really, what could be better than to add joy to your own life while doing better by the plants, animals, people and land in this world?
A dinner from last week that also brought on similar memories.
It may not be the prettiest, but it was both easy and delicious!

*Pesticide is the generic term for both herbicides and insecticides as well as things like fungicides and pretty much anything other chemical that gets rid of something that might hurt a crop.