Do you ever read one of those books that forces you to look around at parts of your life and evaluate?
I love those.
And I hate those.
Earlier this summer I read Michael Pollan’s The Omnivores Dilemma, and it got me thinking. Through a narrative that is equal parts story and research, Pollan tackles the question, what are we eating? What should we be eating? What food is actually better for us? By better, Pollan illustrates how we have to think not only of our own health, but that of our planet, our communities, and the global economy. With all the ever changing diet and food trends (Gluten =bad, no — now quinoa is killing the world, wait — we should cook everything in bacon fat!!!), he astutely illustrates that, “We have become a nation of autonomous eaters, each of us struggling to work out our dietary salvation on our own.”
The book is fascinating, and thoroughly convicting. By the end of it, I was mildly panicked that corn is in EVERYTHING, that all my meat has lived sad unfulfilled lives, and that I live in the city and can’t grow my own food. (Ok, and even if I was in the country, let’s be honest: I kill everything I try to grow. My third sad basil plant of the summer is proof of this.)
Now, I realize that his book was clearly one-sided. My smarty pants economist little brother gave me a very long lecture about how buying only local, etc., actually makes us feel good about the world, but hurts people who benefit from the larger global economy. I’m not prepared enough to combat his argument, but he made some good points that contradict Pollan’s book. I know that anyone can skew any data to show whatever they want.
But still… the book made me think.
And in my garden-less state, I finally signed up for the Washington Green Grocer.
Now, this beautiful box of fresh produce shows up at my door every Thursday and it is like Christmas. Plus, getting a box of local, seasonal produce every week has forced me to broaden my cooking. In the past two weeks, I have roasted more beets than I can count, prepared fennel, and made homemade pesto out of garlic scapes — all three things that had no place in my kitchen before this. Furthermore, I did the math and paying for this box of produce not only satisfies my green guilt, but it tastes better and ends up costing the same or less than the grocery store. But all of it got me to thinking about stewardship. We live in a world tending to excess where our diets are concerned. Most women I know are stressed about, or at least preoccupied with, feeding our selves and our families with healthy, sustainable, balanced, ethical, food. Free range, organic, local, cage-free, un-pastured — the list of things that we have to find ways to afford goes on and on and on, making meals something so fraught with ways that you can go wrong and be killing yourself and THE WHOLE WORLD with every bite. Talk about pressure.
So much of life comes down to stewardship, what we do with what we have. I want to be a good steward of my body and our earth. I want to eat foods that keep my healthy and promote good practices in our world. But I also have to be a good steward of my money and my time. Buying only good meat and dairy would mean that we couldn’t afford to eat either. Getting up every week to go to all the different farmer’s markets would not only drain the budget, it would take up the time that I like to sleep in and brunch with James, and that matters to me too.
So for now, I’m trying to make good decisions as I shop and loving my Green Grocer Box.
What are your thoughts? Do you subscribe to a CSA or something similar? Anyone read The Omnivore’s Dilemma? What did you think?
You need to read Maria Rodale’s “Organic Manifesto”. It changed my life.
Will do! What was it’s ultimate message? I always like to know kind of going in.
Haha!! Of course you do. It’s a revealing take on the environmental and physical impacts of the organic vs. non-organic debate. My pantry literally transformed because of that book.
I’m in the happy process of going pretty green. Robyn Openshaw, or Green Smoothie Girl, is changing my life and I’m loving it. Kevin, too (had to bring up a male supporter)! GreenSmoothieGirl.com. I’m a shameless promoter. She wants everyone to, at least, drink one quart of green smoothies a day, which are full of yummy various veggies, fruits, and whatever stuff you want to throw in: nuts, protein powders, flax seed, etc. It’s the most efficient way I’ve heard of for getting the nourishment we need for healthy bodies. I’m excited to do more reading on all of this, and am delighted to hear more suggestions. I’m torn about meat, because my mouth waters at the thought of it. I’m opting to scale back at least.
I would be hard pressed to sell James on smoothies… but he does really love veggies so I can’t complain there! Also, I had a lonnnnggggg talk with a nutritionist and she said that we SHOULD all be eating meat more frequently, just smaller portions than the average American, and grass fed (which I am not always good about since it is so pricey). So go indulge that meat love!!! : )
This is a really interesting discussion – my former bosses were super-organic (read: most groceries came from Whole Foods) and my own family eats food prepared by my Dad using basic, healthy ingredients. And now I have my own kitchen, and a husband who would not touch fennel unless I begged him to try it for me. (Although, if we’re being honest – not sure I’d buy it. We’re eating a lot of raw spinach, though, which he likes!) Our budget is pretty tight since he’s a student, I’m no longer working outside the home and Bebe approacheth, and we shop mostly at Wal-Mart, which is a two minute walk from our apartment, except for most produce, which I get from Winn-Dixie or Whole Foods (10+ minute drive).
In terms of stewardship, there are so many ways to do this. For us, it means driving less. Wal-Mart still carries a range of organic and healthy options for meals, especially if one knows how to prepare meals using basic ingredients. (Ironic that we drive to get our healthier produce/ food.) We’re living within our budget, and keeping that burden to ourselves. We’re opening up our home and feeding other grad students occasionally. We’re not wasting a lot of food because we only buy what we need, and use it before we dive into the new food binge. And as much as people love to hate on Wal-Mart, it employs A LOT of people in the area, and I’ve yet to be in this Wal-Mart when it wasn’t packed full of people. Before Katrina, our area was near the Projects; and even though property people have bought it up and developed the land nicely, Wal-Mart still provides a resource for people less well-off that we are, even. In terms of economics on a larger scale, they are providing a real good.
My Dad is a big proponent of buying local, so I like that you get that grocery box every week. Christmas indeed!!
I love your testimony here J.R.! I just wanted to add to your comments by saying that by avoiding processed and prepackaged foods to begin with, eating organic can be very inexpensive! The only exception is meat, which is wildly expensive if you buy organic. My husband and I started by altering our food pyramid to one where produce is the bottom of the pyramid, then meats and grains like rice, oats, and buckwheat were next up, then dairy and nuts, and then sweets and packaged foods like crackers and granola bars. When we began buying in that pattern, our grocery bill went way down. On top of that, we now grow most of our own produce in a small patch in the back yard (Yes!! That’s possible!!). In a remarkably small space, we’ve got tomatoes, peppers, peas, green beans, cucumbers, eggplant, pumpkins, summer squashes, corn, sunflowers, herbs, potatoes, carrots, onions, broccoli, cabbage, spinach, and salad mixes, among others. And that costs us nothing in fossil fuels, since we save our seeds each year and use the bare minimum in soil amendments by making the most of crop rotation. I guess I’m applauding your efforts and encouraging you to make baby steps! You’ll be surprised how quickly they add up, I think. Eating local and/or organic doesn’t have to be hard!! The food industry just wants you to think it is.
Hey, I spent the first 22 years of my life buying almost exclusively at Walmart, and I still buy a lot of our stuff a Safeway and just don’t even feel bad about it. Plus, the Omnivore’s Dilemma book had a whole section on Whole Foods that basically shows how it is not any better than Walmart, which assuaged my guilt. : ) We can only do the best we can with what we have and have available!
And for the record, james hated the fennel. : )
I’ve been fully intending to read that book for a while, thanks for the happy reminder! I am big into eating green and “going green,” and as healthy as it is for the body (and, may I venture … soul), it is just as not healthy for the pocketbook. I have joined and cancelled 2 CSAs, as the cost ended up not quite adding up, and I don’t always have enough time to use the surplus of fresh veggies before they go to waste. Thankfully, living in LA has made these practices a bit more affordable, as much of the produce found at regular grocery stores is local (or at least more local that what we find on the east coast), and there are many more organic options at a better price point.
I became a vegetarian during my last semester of college, and the sole reason was that I was living off campus and buying most of my own food, and I was at the beginnings of my venture into organic food, so I decided that I wasn’t going to buy non-organic meat, but I wasn’t going to spend the money for high-quality meat. So as an experiment, I decided to stop eating meat for that semester only. I am over four years into that “one semester only” and I don’t see a reason to stop yet. But it’s definitely not for everyone. And yes- when you do eat mean, the “average” American eats too much of it and not the good kind. Red meat really isn’t good for you, and you’re not doing yourself much of a favor eating meat that’s injected with hormones and not raised well either. You can absolutely taste the difference.
Also, if I may- try drinking organic milk for one week (whole- skim and the like just have the nutrients stripped out), and see if you can go back.
That to say- Stewardship. Yes. And it looks different for everyone. We all just need to find that balance 🙂
You will love it! I especially loved the part where he spent a couple weeks with a crazy Christian Libertarian organic farmer in VA and the man beautifully illustrated how his belief in divine creation has impacted his farming. Beautiful testimony.
I shall reiterate that organic is a marketing fraud sold to so you can purchase propitiation for the sin of market efficiency when in fact there is little to no scientific evidence suggesting it is healthier, local purchasing is a conspiracy to impoverish the poorest of the world and promote atavistic cultural norms, and the Internet is just a passing fad. But if you like the taste of cultural elitism, then you are entirely justified. For myself, I intend to purchase exclusively fertilizer-using, GM-crop imports from Bangladesh. Or whatever is on discount. Love you!
What would I do without you? ; )
I think that food is important in many ways and that Americans should spend more money on it— not to buy fancier processed foods, but to buy better quality simple (dare I say real) foods. It’s kind of silly that we spend so much on stupid entertainment and so little on feeding ourselves nutritiously. But… you are right. We have to steward our money too, and for most people that means not buying 100% organic, grassfed, etc.
Me, sure I try to get “good” meat (no antibiotics or hormones, and I like my chickens to eat bugs) but really? Normal grocery store chicken is better than no chicken. In my opinion, anyway, as I tend towards the paleo-ish side of things. 🙂 And pesticide-d spinach is better than no spinach. So I compromise.
And I’ve been eating like a horse ever since the third trimester of pregnancy so our grocery budget can use all the help it can get, ha.
I totally agree that normal meat and veggies is better than no meat and veggies! That is kind of my general mantra. I think I especially take this to heart when I am entertaining. I don’t want to feel like i can’t be hospitable because of some organic free range mafia.
Also, you are totally allowed to eat like a horse. You are kind of running a restaurant out of your body for that little cutie of yours. (And yes, that was super awkward to write… whatever.)
I read “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and it was one of the things that pushed hubs & I into eating more whole and less processed foods. I think it has definitely helped us stay healthier. We joined a CSA a few years ago, and love our weekly box of local fruits & veggies. We also started a small garden plot in our side yard that is amazingly abundant (cukes, peppers, squash, eggplant, tomatoes, & herbs). It really is striking, the difference in taste and quality between the food you grow yourself or get locally in season and what you find at the grocery store. There’s really no comparison – the local stuff wins hands down every time. I also am a fan of supporting local farms when possible. I have a soft spot for small family-owned farms, since farming runs on both sides of my family up through my grandparents’ generation.
I agree with the idea that each of us does what we can, and it’s all about balancing the need to be a good steward of the environment and our health with being good stewards of our household budgets.
It’s true — it does taste better. And if produce tastes better, I am more likely to eat lots of it.
I’m also super jealous of your little garden!!! Of course, my one basil plant is so neglected that I would be a total failure at it most likely. : /
Being a locovore is probably better for you and the economy than any of the other things like organic, free-range, etc. Just my opinion. Making from scratch is always better than processed. That box of green stuff looks awesome! No farmer’s market near you? For me, the discount table often trumps all other considerations. But I like to harvest wild foods as well and have some remnants of an old orchard and other fruit trees. Totally organic (read neglected). PS. found your blog through a friend and like what I see.
We have farmer’s markets, but since we live in a super yuppy area, they are WAY more expensive than our box. And yes, processed is never as good for you.
OK, I have to chime in here. I’m a new reader but I’m enjoying your writing already. I am a Christian farmer, 28 years old, working the land the OLD way (which is “organic”) with my husband and young toddler. We grow a lot of what we eat, and I don’t perfectly purchase the rest of my diet exclusively locally or organically. But I want people, especially Christians, to realize that all these confusing food issues going around DO matter! The farms around us here in the Midwest are by and large your typical modern, non organic farm, growing corn and soybeans to feed animals and our processed food appetites. The ground they grow on is dead. In other words, no organic matter, no earth worms, no nutrition. They put heavy doses of anhydrous ammonia on the soil every spring so that it will grow anything at all. This is a petroleum based nitrogen that you may remember exploded in TX this winter. Dangerous stuff. They then plant GMO seeds and when they spray with Roundup, at first you don’t see any weeds die, but then you slowly see the plants keel over because their immune system was attacked, meanwhile the corn or beans look beautiful, even though they were doused with this toxic substance. These farmers erode the topsoil all the time by planting steep hillsides that should never be plowed. Farming is beautiful, God-glorifying, family friendly work, and it’s sad that there are less than 1% of Americans farming, and the rural areas are turning into one big farm run by someone who doesn’t even live on the land. By buying local, organic food through CSAs, markets, and co-ops, you ARE contributing to your own health, the health of the land, and the health of farming, which is a precious thing to care about. We spend SO much on worthless stuff…it’s time we valued our food more. There are plenty of ways to eat this way on a budget. I am currently pregnant and working my fanny off because I believe pulling weeds really is better than spraying them, and because I love seeing my son learn to work alongside his mom and dad in a field that isn’t poisoned.
I really appreciate all that you said!! Have you read Pollan’s book? The part that I loved best was when he stayed for a while with a Christian farmer who did a great job of articulating why being a Christian made him farm the way that he did. It was such a beautiful testimony.
It’s funny that there is a Christian Libertarian that he visits, cause I consider myself one. However, I get HIGHLY skeptical about food trends. In the end, it only matters what (hypothetical) you wants to make me do, and I’m not down for that. BTW, your econ brother sounds smart, and I believe we might be good friends.
I’ve never heard of a box like this, but it sounds awesome! I love fresh produce.
Don’t let basil get you down – I’m fairly decent at keeping plants alive, and every year I try to nurse it along and every year I find myself looking sadly at the shrivelled pile of sad leaves and vow to buy it instead.
Why is it so hard to grow such a little plant???? I can’t bring myself to throw out the dead ones because I keep hoping they will come back, so my back porch is like a creepy herb graveyard.
It is true that buying local is less energy efficient than buying from big boxes, but I choose to buy local and to shun processed food for other reasons. For instance, I choose to support local merchants and farmers — the people who live in my town, who go to my church — rather than a business enterprise that siphons money away from my city and sends it to its central bank in Iowa or wherever. Also, the big lesson for me of The Ominvore’s Dilemma was how ubiquitous corn is, and because of subsidies. Corn and grain are dangerous foods for a nation watching its weight, and I believe the subsidies given to corn, and the subsequent everpresence of high-fructose corn syrup, are a major contributor to diabetes and obesity.
If you want to read the works of a Christian farmer on localism, might I reccomend Wendell Berry, or Joel Salatin? Berry is cozy and heartwarming, Salatin is a laugh riot who refers to himself, not entirely mockingly, as a lunatic farmer. His “Folks, This Ain’t Normal” is especially good reading.
Actually, Joel Salatin is the one that is discussed in the book I think, and I loved him! I am also a big fan of Berry, from the little I have read.
I found your blog post interesting and insightful. I found the comments amusing. Everyone has an opinion on what is best for health and our world. I am probably much older than most of your commentators and have seen many ideas about healthy eating come and go. I lived through the 70’s when Frances Moore Lappe had us combining our foods in such a way as to make “complete proteins”. It was essentially a grain/legume based vegetarian diet.
I have lived through the pasteurize your milk for safety, don’t pastuerize your milk for health, the eat margarine because it is low in saturated fat, eat butter because it has no transfat, eat whole grains, don’t eat grains, etc.
Food ideas will come and go. What concerns me about all of this is the lack of grace that people have for folks who don’t hold to their particular idea about what constitutes healthy eating and the pride I hear in people’s tone when discussing how they choose to eat. Lots of us are trying to feed our families in as healthy, earth friendly and responsible way as we know how. What that looks like to each family is different for each family.
It’s true — so much is just what is “in” at the moment. I’m just hoping that for one delicious moment it will be the All Cake diet, so that I can indulge guilt free until all my organs start to fail from sugar overdose. ; )
loving the blog. Just wanted to tell you that the secret of growing basil is a sunny windowsill and lots of water – like half a cup a day. You need to get it from a good supplier (in London I use Marks and Spencer and their basil is great whereas Waitrose usually dies) and repot it. When I lived in Paris I had a whole windowsill with basil on it and people used to stop and smell it and give me advice. “Mademoiselle, beaucoup d’eau!”
Those Parisians and their constant advice!!! My basil from Trader Joe’s said it only needed water once a week… and I just knew that seemed wrong. Ok, maybe plant number 4 will work. : )
Whilst there are some things I cannot be bothered buying organic because they are either far too expensive, or almonds from which seem to hatch flour moths, I truly don’t understand why people would want to shun organic produce. It clearly tastes so much better, for one thing. I note with interest that since my boyfriend moved in with my and my son, he has been far healthier (yes, I know, we are cohabiting, don’t judge). The only thing I can think of that has changed about his lifestyle is that he now is made to eat organic because I buy all our food!
I loved and hated “Omnivore’s Dilemna”. I loved it because it confirmed my vegetarianism and I finally had something to throw into the explanation other than the fact that I’m allergic to red meat and spent a summer frying chicken and now can’t really even look at it. I hated it because now everytime I pick up something in the grocery store (other than produce) all I can think about is the amount of corn that went into making it. When it comes to stewardship I believe its about finding a balance and is more than just buying local or organic. It’s about doing what you can reasonably afford. As a commenter mentioned above, even choosing to walk more and drive less has an impact. But not everyone has that luxury either. It would be great if we could all eat sustainably grown food, bought from our local market just a walk down the street, ride our bikes to work and come home to weed out lush vegetable gardens, while the compost pile is rotting away in the corner of the yard. Unfortunately, without widespread systematic change, that reality is never going to happen for everyone. A few, maybe, but definitely not everyone. Finding your own balance between that life and the overindulgent, super-sized American attitude is definitely key in stewardship.
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