Food is really important to me. I mean really, really important. I believe that food is not just necessary, but that it can be joyful, nourishing, and healing. It has a huge influence on my quality of life, but my relationship with food is, well, lets just say it’s complicated. I have traveled through many gardens, fields, supermarkets, and health food stores on my journey with food and I’m still trying to fully figure out how food fits in my life. Most importantly, I’m trying to find a new way to feed my family simple whole foods that both nourish our growth and are gentle on our Earth.
I love a full pantry, but the filling it part is painful for me. I love cooking, I love preparing yummy meals for my family. Their full bellies make my soul smile – a little love in every bite. But still, I have this nagging feeling of unease when the milk begins to run low and there is only one last apple in the bowl. Why? Grocery shopping exhausts me. I dread it. The busy stores with everyone bumping their carts into each other completely overwhelm me. The lights and sounds make it hard for me to think clearly. I get foggy. Once I’ve left, I have this uncomfortable feeling that somehow I’ve been the victim in some well-orchestrated scheme.
This happens to me even though I know a thing or two about food. I can explain local food versus organic food, I understand what fair trade is all about, I get that chemicals in my food are bad – I even know the specific effects most of them have on one’s body. I could teach a class on what gluten does to your intestines and why humans should not consume milk past infancy. I know exactly how far a banana has traveled before it finds it’s way to my kitchen. I’m an educated shopper. Trust me.
As we have been intentionally simplifying our lives, many changes are happening easily, naturally, intuitively, but our food situation has me conflicted and frustrated. Right now we shop at a combination of traditional stores. Being such a large family, our budget has been stretched immensely by utilizing the big-box store near us for staples – rice, toilet paper. Y’know, the usual stuff. We also shop at a local grocery store for things like produce and coffee and yogurt.
At the end of my expeditions to these stores, my cart is always full to over-flowing, but I am left anxious and empty inside. I feel like I have spent too much money and still haven’t collected the food I really want to eat. Food wasn’t always complicated for me. When I was a little girl I lived on a beautiful old farm. One hundred and eighty acres in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, just a couple of miles from rolling Lake Superior. We had chickens to chase around, a huge garden full of yummy vegetables, fruit trees and berry bushes. My mother and my grandmother baked bread and made dandelion wine. My dad drove a tractor. For a child, it was a magical place. I felt connected to the food I ate.
I want that again. I want that for myself and I want that for my children. I want them to watch plants grow from seeds into something that nourishes their bodies. I want them to experience eating a carrot only seconds from the ground, still gritty with soil. I want them to smell bread baking in the oven (even if it is gluten-free), and feel eggs still warm from the nest. I want them to have fingers stained red from the juice of ripe berries. I want them to understand where their food comes from and to not feel separate from it.
This fantasy fills me with hope and longing. But, alas, we are so not there yet. The crux of the matter is money. Our food system is not designed to support healthy, mindful eating. It just isn’t. Food devoid of value is cheap and easy to obtain, while fresh, sustaining food is prohibitively more expensive and much more elusive. We have six very hungry bellies to fill in this family.
How can I feed this family the food I value while not going completely broke? What can I do right now to save a few dollars and move us closer to eating in line with our values? How can I increase our connectedness to the food that sustains us? These are the questions I am trying to sort out. Unfortunately, for the time being, I’m afraid the answer to most of these questions seems to be, not much.
But we’re working hard and beginning to see places to step forward. We are starting to shift our resources away from conventional food sources and move towards sources that sit well with our ethics. For the time being, these are small choices – like giving up potato chips so that we can afford organic eggs instead of conventional eggs. This is no small thing as we eat almost four dozen eggs a week. Our goal is to eventually raise our own brood of laying hens to supply us with an abundance of fresh eggs.
We are dreaming all the time of our future garden lush with produce, of our very own berry bushes ripe with fruit. My husband has had a life-long love affair with honey and is trying to convince me we want bees someday. We plan to create a comfortable little homestead. Someday.
In the mean time we’ll continue to make more things from scratch (this mama is learning how to make corn tortillas!), and try to start minimizing the packaging we bring home from the store. I’ll continue to read and research and comb through the budget. I’ll continue to sort out this family’s relationship to food.