On the Goodness of (Real) Food

I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that food in the twenty-first century has become hi-tech.

Which is to say, we have in some measure virtualized what we eat. Brilliant scientists have been paid to synthesize sweet, sour, and salty substances with a far more intense tongue-impact than anything we encounter naturally. Fast food in particular has become a way for us to get at the ‘hard reality’ behind what we eat, compact it, and distribute it in ridiculously compressed (and explosive, I might add) portions. ‘Just the fats, ma’am.’ And the salts and sugars.

But even the non-fast food available in the grocery stores is mostly (80% or so depending on the store) processed. Most of what we consume via the mouth is mediated to us (think TV ‘news’) by a third party, and not at all the sort of thing that human beings have eaten for centuries. We don’t know where most of it comes from and the law doesn’t force big agribusinesses to tell us everything that’s in it.

On top of all that, the practices used by industrial farming operations since the mid-twentieth century are terribly destructive to the land being farmed. Many people have been speaking out about this matter for decades, but it’s becoming mainstream knowledge nowadays. The centralized processing and distribution methods used also require incredibly high petrol inputs and other incidental costs for the processing itself and the transportation.

Our virtualizing society separates us from one another, as I have written before, and causes many other separations. Perhaps the most destructive of these has been our separation from what we eat and where it comes from. This, in turn, has been a significant factor in our increasing isolation from each other.

I am writing this post as a brainstorm jump-starter for unteching food.

Where to begin?

The good news is that there has been a substantial subculture devoted to studying this matter in the US since at least the 1950s, so there are a lot of resources out there to help us untech food and re-connect to one another in the process. This post will be a bit different in that I am simply going to point to a few of these resources rather than expound on them. Later on I will handle more specific issues one at a time because this field is massive.

Exemplary Pioneers

The Dervaes family has done something incredible on 1/5 of an acre in Pasadena, CA. The film explains what they’ve been doing far better than I can.

Eliot Coleman has been gardening organically for longer than I’ve been alive, and his New Organic Grower and Four Season Harvest are well worth the purchase price.  This is merely a teaser video; look him up on Youtube to find a number of seminars, talks, speeches and instructional videos for practical gardening.

Wendell Berry has been farming, thinking, and writing about community and agriculture for decades. People (like me) keep discovering and rediscovering his work. (In the video there’s some excellent words on virtual and real community beginning around 18:00, and the last few minutes are not to be missed.)  If you don’t know his writing, I highly recommend taking a look through the essays in The Unsettling of America. Your library probably has a copy.

What to do?

Here’s a few tips from True Food Solutions, a new online community you may want to consider joining, to get you thinking in the right direction:

  • Grow your own. No matter how little space you have, you can grow something. Even herbs for drying and edible flowers in a window box. As Eliot Coleman has said, it’s unbelievable just how easy it is. The amount of free resources to get you going here leaves you with no excuse. (Not only for plants – animals too!)
  • Buy local and buy in bulk. Do some research and begin to find ways to support those who are growing organically around you. Join a CSA in your area. Join a buying club for grains that may be difficult or impossible for people in your area to grow. Limit trips to the local big-box grocer. We need to put our money where our mouth is if we want to see change!
  • Preserve and store the harvest. Buy in season, when the food is cheap, and learn to can and freeze for yourself.

(See the recorded webinar here if you haven’t thought about much of this before and you might pick up a few ideas about one or two tasks or changes to begin with.)

Unteching our food – changing our thinking and habits regarding what we eat so that they bring us together, supporting community and sustainability – is a life-change, not merely and idea exchange. It’s a journey we’re on at home, and we hope you will join us. Your communities, your land, your children and grandchildren need you.

You will be more human, and you will be more happy.