Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Meaning of Food

For the last eight weeks our family has been on the receiving end of a gift of a weekly meal, prepared from scratch and delivered to our doorstep. The preparer is herself a mom and her food "values" align well with mine. The fare is vegetarian, hearty, and scrumptious.

The thing that has been so neat about this experience is that it has rekindled my reverence for food and reminded me what is missing from the institutional corporate food world. I can't sit down to these meals without thinking about the planning, time, energy, and care that went into preparing them. Not one bit of it goes to waste. Here's what we've enjoyed:
  • Lasagna and Pea Soup 
  • Burritos and Minestrone Soup 
  • Sesame Noodles and Vegetarian Chili 
  • Beans & Rice and Potato Chowder 
  • Stuffed Shells and Lentil Soup 
  • Vegetable/Tofu Pot Pie and Garbanzo soup 
  • Enchilada Casserole and African Peanut Soup
She's very generous and the meals last several days which means I have some awesome lunches at work!

So what do I mean that this has "rekindled" my reverence for food? Well, I used to be part of a team that taught an experimental interdisciplinary two-year Earth Sustainability course here at VT and we devoted a semester to food and agriculture. We read Michael Pollan's Ominvore's Dilemma, visited Joel Salatin's Polyface Farm (and read Holy Cows and Hog Heaven). We learned about the importance of local agriculture and sustainable farming and livestock practices and brought the local Farmer's Market to campus. We began to unpack the cultural and familial significance of food while coming to realize that all eggs/carrots/beef/etc are not created equal. I think I had drifted away from some of that.

Having meals "gifted" to me has been a much-needed reminder of what I want my children to understand about food. I've probably over emphasized the idea of food as fuel and under emphasized the sustainability and cultural/meaning aspects. In them, I want to cultivate a reverence for food as a scarce and valuable resource that relies on healthy soil, water, and air. Right now there is a major war going on that few people are aware of: monopolizing bully industrial land-raping chemical food creators versus conscious sustainable land steward farmers. Okay, maybe that's an oversimplification, but that's the gist of it.

Something that really scared me was that an effort to create a community urban farm in our nearby city was withdrawn this fall amidst tremendous opposition from neighbors. The didn't want a "dirty smelly farm" near them and just wanted to get their food from a store. If they understood the big picture from an environmental and political/corporate perspective they would very likely feel differently.

Folks need to understand the issues surrounding food and agriculture. So thanks to this gift of food, I've reopened these discussions with my kids. I think our next family book reading will be Holy Cows and Hog Heaven.

If this is an area that you are not familiar with, I'd recommend Michael Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma as an excellent introduction and overview.