Let’s talk about food: It’s more important than you realize. I’m working on a series of posts that I hope will encourage people to take a closer look at their food and begin to have a better understanding and appreciation of it. With everything going on out in the world right now with this national quarantine, it’s more important than ever to take a look at this aspect of our lives. Our daily lives are centered around food, without us even realizing it. Honestly, I don’t think people give this a lot of thought. Until I started to garden, I didn’t realize how much we center our lives around food. From relationships to health to basic survival, food is the reason we do so much of what we do.
Part of why I became so interested in the idea of homesteading is that we, as a society, spend so much of our time working. We work 40 hours a week away from home (or more) in order to provide for our families. But what exactly is it that we are trying to provide? A home, clothing, entertainment, a car, paying the bills….and food. When it comes down to it, if there were only two things most of us could afford to pay for, we’d find a way to be able to pay for our food and shelter, but food would come first.
We work for food. What if, instead of working a full-time job away from home to take care of our largest monthly expense, we were able to grow or raise the majority of our food and survive off of a smaller income? And what if we were able to reduce our other expenses so much that we were able to provide for the rest of our needs with the skills we possess, either in the form of working for others or making things ourselves? If so much of the work we do is for our food, then why not do that work directly, cut out the middlemen, and provide the best product possible for our family?
But our lives revolve around food for more reasons than because we do so much work just to have it. Our health revolves around food as well. While we can’t fix every physical ailment with the food we eat, we can fix a lot of them. It’s just not fast enough for some people, especially when years of bad habits result in a lot of bodily damage that takes time to undo. And food affects our mental well-being, too. Certain foods are known to cause depression or anxiety when consumed too often. Others give us a temporary high that’s followed by feelings of grumpiness and frustration. And we stress eat, whether it is because we are sad, anxious, depressed, frustrated, angry, or grumpy. Food has an unusual ability to comfort us.
Have you ever thought about how relationships are built around food? It’s a way we connect with one another: make friends, comfort, show affection, apologize, spend time together, support each other… One of the greatest blessings I’ve received is when friends and family have brought us food after having a baby, loosing a loved one, getting sick, moving, or went through a hard time. After each of our children were born, somebody brought us food. Before E was even born we had people bring us some food, and was an absolute lifesaver when I was the most exhausted I had ever been in my life. Those meals and snacks, and even gift cards to restaurants and grocery stores made life a lot easier for us during a very busy time. We had a few neighbors or family members bring us cookies or a dinner after grandparents passed away. It’s amazing how difficult it can be to function after you loose somebody so close to you.
There have been times one of my sisters or my mom have brought us food when we all got sick at the same time. I couldn’t go out to the store, couldn’t make food for the family, and really needed some extra help. Their meals meant so much to me. When we moved to our apartment, our old house, and to this house, we had people bring us meals, too. Some were a way of saying congratulations or “Hi” or just because they knew we’d be too busy to have much time to think about cooking… something that was far more important this last time for us with a house full of kids. And there were meals brought after the miscarriages I had when we were first married, and meals brought after we had the fire in our chicken coop.
We use food as a primary means of finding a significant other. First dates are often had over a meal because aside from eating, there aren’t a lot of distractions and you can talk and get to know each other. We recognize that the family dinner plays a big role in how connected a family is. When they sit down to eat, they talk about their day, share the latest news, and make plans for when they have more free-time. When we take the time to prepare food together, we share stories, pass down recipes, and teach new skills, all while bonding with family or friends.
I’ve been reading a lot of stories about how this person learned how to garden from their mother, and that one learned how to preserve food from their grandmother, and it got me to thinking about just how intimately connected their lives and relationships are to their food. They grow their own food, usually working together. They harvest it together. They preserve it together. They eat it together.
Once while canning green beans, I could not get the kids to cooperate with me for more than a few minutes at a time. They picked a handful of green beans, snapped a few, and wandered off again, leaving me to do the bulk of the work. It was a slow, time-consuming process. The second time, I had better success. I had to get a little bit pushy with the kids, but they helped me pick beans until they were all picked. We sat at the table together and made bean mountains and talked and made very quick work of a job that took me a painfully long time just a week or so before. While the snapping was happening, I got up a few times to get everything ready for pressure canning, so when we finished snapping, we were able to fill the jars up right away and get them into the canner. Peanut alone was able to fill half of the jars, and they handed me jars to fill with water. That second experience was far more pleasant, not just because I it went faster, but because we spent time being together.
The kids were very helpful planting the garden and harvesting last year, and they helped however they could with preserving, and we all loved it. This winter when it was maple syrup season, the kids helped gather sap, stack wood, and feed the fire. They help feed the chickens, helped with butchering where needed, and they often collect our chicken egg. With each of these acts of participation, they spend more time interacting with me, and they deeply connect with their food. I’m so excited to see just how much they appreciate the food that we grow. They are far less wasteful and far more grateful when they know what it takes to produce something.
When we are disconnected from our food, there is a good chance we are disconnected from each other. If we eat only to get through the next part of the day and we never stop to enjoy our food, we miss out on connecting with great tasting food and good company. If we only eat food for the sake of our next round of energy or to stop the rumbling in our stomachs without thinking about what we are putting into our bodies, we miss out on a great opportunity to build the healthy body that we need to be able to get through the next part of the day with ease.
When we don’t eat right, our brains don’t function well. When we don’t eat well, we get tired or crash because of a temporary high. When we don’t eat good things that nourish us, we get sick easily. How would your life change if you made just one change to the way you connect with your food? If you made it a point to eat dinner with your family every day, if you made meals for those who could use a helping hand, if you taught somebody how to garden or put up food, or took the time to learn how to garden or put up your own food? How would your life be different if you chose to eliminate just one junk item from your diet and either leave that hole empty, or fill it with something good? How would your life change if you raised or hunted for your own meat, collected eggs from your poultry, or milked your own cow? If you could start today, what’s the one change you’d make right now?
Next time, I’d like to talk in more detail about how our food is grown. What is something you’ve always wondered about? Drop a line in the comments!