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in defense of eating

April 1, 2012

Last week I was talking to a friend about gardening, and she recommended Michael Pollan’s book, Botany of Desire, which I had read last year. I decided to re-read it. But I also checked our library for every Michael Pollan book they have, and then I checked out 5 of them. I stayed up until early this morning to finish reading In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto. And now I’m rethinking everything.

Apparently lots of people in America are of obsessively worrying about how to eat healthy. And I was born at a time when the agricultural industrial complex was profoundly influencing how everybody thinks about food, nutrition, what eating is for. So it’s not just my mother who got me on the wrong track. Millions of other Americans are on the wrong track with me, and have been for the last 40 years or so. In other words, it’s a systemic problem.

I’ve fallen into the same trap of eating ever more ‘convenient’, highly processed foods, so I can save the time and bother of cooking. But then because I’m unemployed, that gives me a whole lot of time to fill up. It’s daunting how much time I have to fill up every week. So what am I really saving by not cooking? Besides that, the more I’ve tried to add ‘fiber’ and ‘vitamins’ and ‘nutrients’ to my diet, the less-tasty the food is. So I eat more, because I don’t feel satisfied (and apparently modern foods are much less nutritious than they used to be, since highly fertilized plants aren’t getting micronutrients from healthy soil). Even though I want to enjoy the process of eating, it just hasn’t been happening.

I’m starting to see that I’ve been looking in the wrong places for how to improve my life. (Or I have looked in the right places, and then did not do what I had decided I should. Mostly because of my old friend, inertia.)

I can’t really be of this land if I’m not eating local foods, that were nourished in local soils. And I think I need to start gardening for real, and eating what I grow.

I remember eating produce I (sometimes) picked myself from my grandmother’s backyard garden. That’s where I learned to love fresh tomatoes, radishes, carrots, and probably other things I don’t recall. My grandfather showed me that the Oxalis growing as a weed in their yard was edible, even the flowers. When I can find it growing wild in places that are not sprayed, I eat it. I like the bright sourness of it. Just today on a walk in the woods, I tried a bit of skunk cabbage leaf. (I’ll have to look it up to make sure it’s not poisonous*. Because of that uncertainty, I took a very small piece.)

And given my earlier harshness, I have to add that I often think of my mother when I eat fruit, especially apples. She always said she’d rather eat fruit for dessert or a snack than anything else. A velvety peach from the farmer’s market is one of my favorite things just to hold in my hand, and inhale the scent. Eating one is sublime. I need better food.

And my mother’s apple fritters are without equal.

*Looks like it was probably a good idea I didn’t eat more of it.

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