Monday, November 23, 2009

Bringing Elsea in

Healthy Eating

Our vision for healthy eating is quite simply a homegrown diet. We believe focusing our attention on the system that produces our food -- instead of trying to merely quantify the nutritive properties of mass-produced, supermarket commodities -- will lead us to the healthiest possible eating. In other words, we believe the ultimate consumer assisted by an army of nutrition experts and doctors shopping at the "healthiest" supermarket can't assemble a diet as healthy as simple, homegrown food. We also believe that it's absurd to try to separate questions of what's good for us as eaters from the questions of what's good for the land, what's good for the farmer, what's good for farm animals, and what's good for the farming community. Considering these questions as one organic whole is the surest path to healthy eating. Of course, some things like synthetic pesticides, artificial sweeteners, hydrogenated "vegetable" oil, Cool Whip, Miracle Whip, or synthetic fertilizers are by their very nature not homegrown, so our understanding of what's homegrown applies as much to what goes into growing and processing food as to where the food is grown. Those are all examples of what a homegrown diet is not, but how would a person eat if he weren't a consumer of those things? It's relatively easy to eat homegrown garden crops during the growing season, but that's only one small part of a complete diet. What about grain products (and the meat from grain-fed animals), dairy, fats/oils, pulses, alcohol, and sweeteners? These and others are all types of food that we're not content to cede to corporate agribusiness. Although grains are perhaps the most basic agricultural crop, the labor-intensive nature of harvesting grains on a small scale has all but eliminated local markets. Regulatory burdens have eliminated community-scaled, commercial dairies. Likewise wineries and breweries. The most familiar tree fruits have been almost entirely replaced by highly chemical-intensive orchards in the quest to meet consumer demands for cosmetically perfect fruit. So how then can a person eat the kind of diet we're talking about? A person certainly can't go to the store and buy it. A truly healthy diet like we're envisioning necessarily requires a lot more involvement on the part of the eater, especially given the infantile development of our homegrown food economy. That kind of involvement would include things like putting up food in season to eat out of season, friends cooperatively purchasing and dividing up shares of meat animals, and city people arranging for farmers to grow things for them in homegrown ways. It would mean paying significantly more for certain kinds of food where industrial and chemical shortcuts have accustomed us to artificially low prices. It would involve a lot more effort and knowledge in the kitchen, relearning home economics -- for example, making one's own mayonnaise or yogurt or vinegar from raw ingredients. Of course, all this, if it happens at all, will only happen one step at a time. It's easy to let oneself become an uninvolved consumer; it's much more difficult to regain the knowledge and skills necessary to a homegrown diet. We're eager to rebuild and to help others rebuild the kind of local food economy that can offer a complete, homegrown diet. We're always glad to share and pass on whatever we can to help in that effort.