I started cooking when I was ten; that's 55 years ago. Cooking for friends and family, and for larger groups at fund raising events, has always been enjoyable. Even the current challenge of producing meals that are delicious, nutritious, and in under budget doesn't bother me - in a way that just adds to the fun!
But I am growing very worried over many aspects of the food we eat. There is a major drought this summer in the U.S. affecting our food crops and livestock feed, and adding to the cycle of the degradation of arable land.
Also, I find several aspects of the scientific and technological revolution in farming quite troubling.
Why don't I trust the hugely profitable big businesses raking in the dough for chemical fertilizers, pesticides, genetically engineered seed (yes I'm talking about you Monsanto), unnecessary hormones injected or fed to livestock, enormous pig and chicken outfits with their huge piss ponds, enormous cattle feed lots (all that piss goes somewhere, like into our water supply), highly mechanized whirling poultry processing plants, and humongous fish farms on the ocean coasts? Yikes!
And whether you shop local or drive to a huge market, eat in or eat out, there are large numbers of low paid workers providing your needs along the way. Many of them are not organized into unions and have no benefits either. I'm talking about all the workers in the fields, the loaders on to transport, the truckers, the store clerks, cooks and kitchen crews, clean-up workers, and kids and seniors working the quick & fast places.
Workers are dying in the fields from heat and pesticide spray. Workers at big meat and poultry processing plants (many of whom in the additionally risky situation of not having "papers") are losing fingers or arms in the fast moving "disassembly" lines. The people along the way who are responsible for the food we eat every day are not getting justice! Many are not getting a living wage and basic benefits like health care.
And what has advertising done to the diet and health of all of us from children to seniors? Yes advertising of useless over-sweetened cereals, machine-built snacks, bottled drinks with nothing but high-fructose corn syrup (thanks a lot Archer Daniels Midland) and so-called meals - really, happy meals? - that by no stretch of the imagination could be called meals at all.
I was thinking back to my early childhood living on a farm and to subsequent visits to relative's farms over the following summers.
Breakfast on a working farm was a main meal for women and men who were doing hard physical labor: In addition to oatmeal, some kind of fresh fruit depending on what was ripe (mmm, fresh peaches!), sliced tomatoes, scrambled-up fresh eggs or cold fried chicken or ham from the night before, a quick-bread such as biscuits or cornbread, boiling-hot coffee for the grownups and fresh milk for us children. This early morning meal held you for hours!
Lunches and suppers were comparatively light but always included lots of vegetables and fruit. And there was always some fruit and bread and butter on hand for a snack. Most of the food came from the farm's vegetable garden, fruit trees, and livestock. Or maybe from a nearby farm not more than 10 miles away. The concepts of "seasonal produce" or "locally grown" or "fresh-picked" or "organic" were not advertising gimmicks. Nor were they characteristics of expensive restaurants or high-priced markets.
When did good food become such a luxury? Should we all go vegan for our health and to help save the planet? Should we all be growing vegetables in our yards (the way they have been in Cuba for years) instead of lawns? Should apartment dwellers pitch in on community gardens? Should we all be composting and recycling and bicycling everywhere? Is it safe to drink cows milk? To eat fish from the Great Lakes? To drink the water? To breath the air?
Like others these days I am searching for ways I personally can try to live my life not only doing the least environmental damage, but also doing what's best for my own health and well being. Why is this so very difficult to do in this modern age when information is so readily available?
For starters, I blame the tea party Republicans and their billionaire advisors. They say global climate change doesn't exist so there is no need to have any plans for dealing with the consequences. They say poor people have it too good anyway so that eliminates anything that would improve their health or income. And they say industries can control themselves so no use trying to have any inspections or enforcement agencies. They say government agencies cost too much and are not needed. So that would bring us back to the bad old days of Sinclair's "Jungle."
This brings up the importance of making part of the environmental fight - and the food fight ;-) -- the fight to get rid of tea party Republicans, stop and reverse voter suppression, defeat Romney, get out the vote!
Finally, as a cancer survivor with many family and friends who now have babies, I will do what I can to keep myself healthy and make this a better world for the young ones. To me this will mean changing from the capitalist economic system to a socialist one. Soon.
Photo: Puget Sound Food Network