Wow. I'm reading the book The End of Food by Paul Roberts. Real eye opener and I'm just in the background information bit. It's due at the library and I'm going to have to get it out again or something. Too much information to process all at once. Anyway, the bit that has grabbed me at the moment is the evolution of the food industry. Specifically the convenience food industry. It's not like I'm unaware. It's more that I haven't seen it all laid out in an organized, endnoted, fashion like this. Pretty compelling stuff.
current food industry, according to Roberts, is dependent on "the
continued decline in consumers' ability to prepare or even understand
their own food." That's not the only thing, there's advertising,
engineered consistent flavors, etc. I can't do much about the other
factors. But I can totally cook from scratch and understand food.
far removed are we from a time when most American households not only
cooked, but often grew, their own food for every meal, every day, all
year, their entire lifetimes? I'm thinking "not very" is the answer.
Columbus sailed the ocean blue (1492), there wasn't much in the way of a
prepared food industry here, though there was some. Dried and smoked
fish and meats were traded a bit. Grains were traded, or stolen, a bit
after drying which is partial processing or "convenience." Flavoring
agents like salt and peppers were traded after some processing too. But
really, not much compared to heading to the Quickimart for a hot pocket
which you stick in some appallingly spattered microwave while you hit
the equally appallingly spattered restroom. (Remind me to do a later
blog on the "convenience" industry dealing with the outcome of food
After the pilgrims landed there was
some trade with the local folks for dried or at least harvested grains
and vegies and some for meats. But mostly, if you wanted to eat you'd
better have a family member or servant dealing with that everyday all
day. I guess paying servants is another form of convenience food.
We've outsourced servitude. I remember being impressed that my aunt (Hi
Marcie!) had servants while she lived in India. She was of the upper
social group in her area so that was the accepted social convention.
They probably helped cook. We had no servants other than Mom who slaved
away on food everyday. But sometimes we got a frozen pizza and there
was breakfast cereal, canned soups, and etc. I think I remember her
mostly cooking from scratch. I remember epic sessions of canning and
freezing foods for winter from the giant garden and going to pick
The big annual family "vacation" was geared
around going fishing during blue gill spawning season and bringing home
tons and tons...ok, pounds and pounds of frozen filets that we ate
through the year. The deep freezer was perhaps our most important
appliance. If it failed and everything thawed, we were screwed. Other
vacation time was spent hunting. Deer was the prestige food, but we ate
other things. Fred still occassionally eats squirrel (barf...greasy
little bastards they be).
I remember getting beef from
"retired" dairy cows on another aunt's farm. I'll have to ask how often
that happened. I also remember weekly trips to the Jack and Jill
grocery store (which I assumed was somehow linked to me based on the
I estimate, and will ask, that the greatest portion of our food was
cooked by mom, mostly from scratch with the exception of bread. There
were stints of bread baking, but mostly that was bought. As was the
butter. Don't remember her churning any.
A very large
portion of our protein was killed by someone in the family. I think for
the folks, it still is. They eat many many fish caught and cleaned by
Fred. There is a cleaning station in the garage with hot and cold
running water which anthropologically indicates 2 things...the
importance of this food source and the desire of Sher not to have
fishguts in her lovely cherry wood kitchen (Kitchens By Slugs).
we lived in the first house in Waverly, there was a very large garden
on the neighbor's land in what had been the bottom of the river so
probably pretty fertile. During those years, a good portion of our
vegies came from that garden but I have no estimate on how much.
go back one more generation to Gramma and Grampa and their folks. On
my mother's mother's side they produced approximately 100% of their own
food and much of the neighbors' food and had food based businesses. I
remember the stories of the honey production. I think Gramma said her
dad had a thousand hives but I'll have to ask again. They sold the
honey and made honey vinegar and attempted honey wine though the story
goes that Gramma's gramma thought that was sinful to spiked the bottles
with a bit of mother of vinegar thereby increasing the vinegar output.
Still a saleable product but not worth as much as booze. (Aside: I'm
attempting some honey vinegar right now...there are facinating stringy
thingies in the jar so here's hoping.) They had chickens, a milk cow,
large gardens, and fished the Mississippi. They shared and sold and
traded the extra and sometimes what wasn't extra. I'm guessing they
would have purchased the flour for bread and will ask.
remember Gramma talking about how her mom was on the annual trip to
South Dakota to introduce the newest baby to her folks, she'd stay like a
month or so, and Gramma's dad decided to get a new stove for the wife.
The first one arrived on the train and he declared it not good enough
and sent it back. Greatgramma like to sit on the oven door to keep warm
and he thought this one was flimsy and would break right off. I think
that was a wood stove but not sure. Later, a kerosene stove for summer
cooking was purchased. These events were very big deals and meant to
increase the convenience of cooking at home. I'll have to ask if they
ever ate in a restaurant or bought prepared foods. They did quite a bit
of canning and root cellaring. I'm sure there was hunting as there
were several boys and some guns.
So, 1 generation back, my mom, most food from scratch and quite a bit killed or grown or foraged themselves.
2 generations back pretty much 100%, let's go with 90% because of the flour, killed, grown or foraged themselves.
my sister: She grows the odd tomato after Fred plants her garden.
Picks cherries off her tree and eats and jams them. She sometimes cooks
from scratch and often uses convenience foods and often eats in
For my brother: Has grown his own beef and
turkey. Hunts. Fishes. I suspect that a very large portion of his
protein is killed by him. I don't think much in the way of veggies.
Right now a large portion of his eating at home is home prepared rather
than TV dinner sorts of convenience foods, but I don't know how much is
from "scratch" and how much has some convenience food like industrially
For me: Lately too much restaurant
eating because I don't want to turn the stove on in the summer (a summer
kitchen is a priority part of my imaginary cabin). Probably 7 meals a
week are restaurant or grab-n-go sandwiches. I have been drinking Zevia
gingerale more than my homemade kombucha. And, almost all of the food I
eat is grown, killed, or foraged by someone else. I do cook from
scratch for the other 14 meals per week and have trained myself to
minimize the convenience foods when shopping but do still buy pre-ground
wheat (aka "flour"), pressed oils, etc.
I think for all
of us we use the "convenience" foods of butter, oils, cheeses (except
for me) and the like rather than churning, pressing or cheesing our own.
I used to buy pre-fab almond milk but have found that it's actually
MORE convenient to make my own from almonds. Since getting a tiny ice
cream churn (just 1 pint at a time!) I also make my own sorbets and
non-dairy icecreams but I still buy the nuts and berries and sweetener
pre-made. In the summer almost all of my vegetables come from my CSA,
which is local and not part of the big industrial ag machine, or my tiny
wee garden. In the winter, I do my best with preserved foods but
sometimes I just want to open a can of soup. It's so damned
So, all that to say, that those of us who
cook from basic ingredients, "scratch," are performing one level of
economic disobedience. Every time I grind up my own almonds with water
in the blender, that's one more time I don't send money to a subsidiary
of a multinational corp for my almond milk. Every time I make my own
stirfry rather than buying a bag of prewashed, precut, premixed,
pre-whatever frozen sealed in plastic veggies, I keep a little of my own
money in my pocket rather than sending it to the half dozen
multinational corporations who run the food world.
of every bit that you garden, if you garden. Even a pot of tomatoes or
basil on the patio or a windowsill takes a tiny bit of money away from
Nestle or Kellogg or Birdseye or whatever megacorp (which has personhood
now, by the way). Good for us.
The community garden
here where people can not only eat food grown right here in river city,
we/they learn about how to grow it. We start to understand our food.
Just this year I understood that sweet peas picked too late taste like
crap and give me the farts. That's good to know. I also learned that
they are still edible.
OK, long way around the topic,
but it's so compelling. There are really only 2 big seed companies in
the US. That is a monopoly people. Please grow your own food, with
seeds from the heritage seed companies or buy from local farmers,
preferably those who save and use their own seeds or buy from those
heritage seed companies. You keep money in your community, understand
your food, increase your food and financial security, and carry on with
important elements of being human. Providing your own food and sharing
it with others. (Now, off to the store for a big box of Ding Dongs.)