Sunday, February 7, 2010

Localtarians Grow Convenience Food

Living out in the country and striving to grow a lot of what we eat, I find myself thinking about food a lot. Usually, this time of year, I'm thinking about all the seeds I want to order, where I will plant them, and how I will use the harvested food. In fact, I just placed my seed order last week. I also think about food a lot because it has to be made three times a day, to feed my family of five. And I think about it because of trying to eat locally. There's also my desire to make balanced, whole, healthful food choices that will optimally nurture all my family members in their varied states of need and growth. That's a doozie, because it encompasses a wide range, from my 9-year old son (my youngest, basking in the sun in the picture below) to my elderly father-in-law (80 years old) who successfully battled cancer over the last year.

(Before I go any further, I would like to say that I am not in the habit of photographing my meals or their preparation. As a result, I do not have pictures of food to show you at this moment. I do, however, have lots of beauty pics from this weekend's snow storm. Including the one of my 11-year old, helping with snow removal in the picture below. Because I like picture-heavy blogs, I will post these throughout this entry instead!)

Now, back to food... Over the years, I've been vegetarian, vegan, macrobiotic, and carnivore, not in that order. I've tried so many different ways of eating... eating right for my blood-type, eating high-carb, low fat, eating high-protein, low carb, eating no wheat, eating no soy, eating organic. You can wear yourself out trying to keep up with so many different ways of eating in order to accomplish so many different health goals. About a year ago, I read the book "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" by Barbara Kingsolver. In this non-fiction work, Kingsolver chronicles her family's year-long adventure to eat only locally-grown food. It is, hands down, one of the best books I've ever read, and one I will read over and over again for the rest of my life.

Click here if you would like to read more about Kingsolver and this amazing book.

After trying so many different ways of eating, I have settled into the way I believe will be with me until the end of my life. Now, when people ask, I tell them I am a "localtarian." To me this is simple. Eat what's locally available and in season. Eat lots of variety, many different colors, and don't eat too much of any particular thing. That's it.

Being a localtarian accomplishes so many food goals all at the same time. During the summer months when the weather is warm, the body needs balanced, light, quickly-metabolized food energy. During the colder winter months, the body needs the warming, downward, sustaining energy of animal foods. You can probably see where I'm going with this. The seasons have a way of giving us an abundance of what we need when we need it. Mega veggies in the summer, and deer running around all over the place during fall and into winter. And the foods that naturally keep well, such as winter squash and root vegetables, have great downward energy when you need it in order to be outside in the cold getting firewood.

Simple as it sounds, all of it requires a decent amount of planning, and a huge amount of labor. It can be the hardest work ever, day-in and day-out, to bring in the harvest, prepare it for dinner, and then preserve it for future months. It is relentless. But having gotten through a couple of seasons doing it, I can't conceive of any other way. The food tastes so much better and has a way of giving me exactly what I need. It's a cycle that feeds on itself. I plant the seeds, grow the food, work hard to harvest and eat it. My body feels great eating it, I want more of this great stuff, so I figure out what other things I can grow myself. Which leads to planning the next garden, ordering seeds, and planting them. Over and over again... ad infinitum.

But, there's a part of me that needs a break from it all every now and then. It's usually satisfied by eating at the Chinese buffet once every month or so when I'm in the city. But there are also, at times, fleeting moments when I think I'd rather just forget it all and go buy cheap convenience food at Wal-Mart. Chips, canned soups, lunch meat, pre-sliced cheeses, frozen french fries and fish sticks, boxed dehydrated mashed potatoes, of all things. Open a can, heat it up, or open a box and pop it in the oven! How easy! I'll even serve it on paper plates and we'll throw it all away! Don't worry... I'm not really serious about this. It's just a crazy fantasy.

There remains, however, this little convenience food imp that sits on my shoulder, a leftover from my days in the city, and that guy is famous for starting to whisper in my ear around the time I need to start making dinner. Things like, "You could always pick up subs at the gas station..." or "Let the kids eat at McDonald's on the way home tonight--it won't kill them!" Also, when you live out here, even if you want to, you can't just pick up the phone and order pizza. And when you live far enough away from town, it doesn't make sense to pick up carry-out because it's always cold by the time you get home. Which leads me, f i n a l l y, to the title of this post: Localtarians Grow Their Own Convenience Food!

In the last few years, I've canned a lot of food, both in quantity and variety. At first it was apple sauce and green beans. Tomatoes or pickles. But now, I'm canning soups, too. I figured, why not make soup and put it into jars? I can just as easily open my jars and heat them up, as I could a can of Progresso. Plus, I don't have to load my soup up with a boatload of unnecessary salt. So now I grow and can tomatoes and tomato juice, but I also grow onions and basil so I can make my own tomato basil soup, as well. About once every few months, I make a mega-batch of soup, so I can put up a canner load of jars at the same time I'm making dinner. This works well. And there's nothing like the feeling of opening your own jar and heating it on the stove when you need to prepare a quick meal, or want to cop out and open a can.

I can take this to another level by giving an example of a meal I made last week. I made a big batch of venison stew, and, to me, it was the epitome of convenience food. I sauteed onions and garlic in the bottom of my pressure cooker, added broth, carrots, tomatoes, corn, venison, green beans, turnips, and potatoes, then seasoned it all with thyme, bay leaves, salt and pepper. I locked the lid into place and 20 minutes later.... delicious venison stew. I served this hearty stew with some crusty bread for a complete meal. The entire family loved it and asked for more. Of all the ingredients, only the garlic, corn, and seasonings were purchased. The rest I grew and preserved. Another example: Today for lunch, hubby opened several jars of my tomato basil soup and we ate it with grilled cheese sandwiches and my pickled radishes. We grew everything but the bread and cheese.

As a final thought, would I expect a baby to nurse on anything but its mother's milk? For equally good reasons, it just makes sense to eat what comes from Mother Earth, from the land on which I live for the brief period I refer to as my lifetime. If you are considering the hard, rewarding work of becoming a localtarian, take heart! You *can* have your food and convenience, too. Speaking of which, I must now make dinner, so for now.... back to my tasks at hand.

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