Thursday, August 26, 2010

What I Hope To Teach My Son

Sometimes I hold the little fella we call Sprout (that's not his real name, by the way. I'm not Gwyneth Paltrow!) looking out the window that faces our garden. Occasionally, it seems like he's actually seeing the orange tomatoes ripening and the kung pao peppers turning red. Other times, he's clearly not as he's cross-eyed, staring at the ground or, my favorite, looking up at me very seriously with his big brown eyes.

As he discovers that his hands contain fingers and that these taste pretty good, I start to think about what I'll teach him. There is of course the thought of teaching him to say "Please" and "Thank you" and to not chew with his mouth open. Oh, and using the toilet instead of diapers to do his business; that will be a big one. But beyond the things that essentially will make him a functioning member of society, I find myself more excited to teach him where food comes from and, hopefully, developing a sense of food culture with him.

I am increasingly finding this more & more important as it becomes apparent that both our environment and our waistlines depend on how and what kinds of food we eat. Conventional agriculture pollutes our groundwater (via run-off), air (via dependency on oil) and soil (via chemical fertilizers). Think that crops can only be good for you? Corn & soybeans, a large percentage of crops, are primarily destined to become junk food that we'll mindlessly stuff into our gullet. Not good.

Don't get me wrong; I'm not a junk food or fast food hater. I love me some mac & cheese out of the blue box (or if I'm feeling spendy, the yellow one) from time to time. The difference, I feel, is that I'm aware I'm not eating "food," I'm mostly eating chemicals that have been combined to look and taste like food. Additionally, I treat these overall as treats and less of apart of my actual diet. And I'm also not a totally in-season, local eater. I have been known to purchase celery in winter for a soup or lettuce in summer for a salad. But I try to keep that to a minimum as in-season, local food does taste better as well as being the more sustainable choice.

Food, for most of us, comes from the grocery store where it is clean and misted with water every 15 minutes to make it look "fresh" (nevermind this encourages rot...). Overall, we don't know how to grow it, we don't know how to cook it and we might even be afraid of eating it despite "it" being what our great-grandparents ate.

I find this very sad as a food lover.

In the US we are less fortunate as we don't have a distinctive food culture. When I visited the Cotswolds in England, as you walked into a pub, you were greeted by a chalk board that listed where all their meat, dairy, vegetables and beer came from. In France, the release of possibly my favorite red wine, Beaujolais Nouveau, is cause for celebration. We don't have anything like that here. Certainly there are regional cuisines (some of which rely on processed food) but even then we have no sense of when tomatoes are in season or whether grapes grow in our state.

While little Sprout may never be a horticulturalist or chef or farmer, he will be an eater. I want him to know where his food comes from. I want him to celebrate the first strawberries and tomatoes. I want him to be able to have an idea what is in season (or, at the very least, have an idea what isn't). And, most importantly, I want him to know how much work growing quality food that respects the environment, the workers and the food itself (in the case of animals) really is....and that it's worth every penny.

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