Call me a peasant

This monster made a lot of salsa yesterday. A LOT.

I have always loved food writing. Always. I remember learning about M.F.K. Fisher in college and was hooked, even though my preferred diet at the time was diet Coke and peanut M&Ms (oh the stupidity that is youth). Food plus culture? Even better. So writers like Barbara Grizzuti Harrison and other Europhiles became my escapist reading. But then I found Frances Moore Lappe and I changed my life.

Today, while rolling out tortillas over my lunchbreak, I thought again about my current reading jag: local foodism. It is true that what most attracts me to cucina povera is the fact that there is a local food culture that backs it up. Sure, it’s immensely obvious that the Greeks’ hilly, sunny clime was an excellent place to have goats, grapes and olives. Or that the arid climate of northern Mexico and the American Southwest enabled its people to cultivate the native corn, peppers and squash. Or the grassy beauty that is central Europe allowed those people to have the most wonderful dairy cattle, sheep and goats. I could go on: the leftovers that weren’t good enough for slave owners became the fatback, collards and cornbread of its slaves. All these foods were amazingly whole, and amazingly healthful to those who ate them.

So I look at culturally loaded things like French food and I see through it to the farms that initially produced it: the mother sauces, after all, were simply ways to sex up the common, daily cuisine. Crepes, like tortillas, dosa, injera, pita and countless other flatbreads, are simply using what is at hand to both fill the tummy and extend what little protein is available.

With all this floating in my mind, I do wonder where I am going with all this research. I complained to my uncle a couple weeks back that I am kind of in a reading rut. He, like many of my family, is a voracious reader, and his advice was that this is no rut: you are simply working through something.

And I do know where I am going with it, at least tangentially: I am looking to produce my own food culture, whereby we can live, mostly, off what we produce here on the farm. And that there is a whole tide of generations who have done it before me is both daunting, and really, really inspiring.

And it’ll be much better than M&Ms.

I’m going to take a few days off from blogging to do some thinking.

10 responses to “Call me a peasant

  1. I’ve been reading about permaculture and we’re going to put in new beds using that model. Our chicken coop is an old stall in an old bank barn which faces west. I’m saving old windows, and plan on building a greenhouse so the chickens can heat and fertilize it in our NE OH winters. This years garden has been somewhat pitiful, but hope springs eternal! I’m going to put in a 2nd planting of lettuce, beans and basil, as well as broccoli, and a few other things.
    I’m glad I found you

  2. great post, much food for thought…

    Debra! I know you!

    I, too love MFK Fisher.

  3. my monster tomato challenges your monster tomato to a smackdown. Hey, M&M Mars has a plant in my town, so peanut m7ms are in my foodshed! Could you maybe post a list of say, your top ten favorite culinary reads?

  4. Those who came before are definitely inspiring, and your post added to my own musings today. I guess we were on the same wavelength. 🙂

    Have a good break!

  5. A considered and thoughtful post! For the peasant owning land and growing food were the small securities life offered you. You prayed the harvest would be good and that no-one decided to invade the realm.

    I know this all too well, having listened my parent’s life stories, dubbed by us rather ungraciously as peasant poverty stories. I would roll my eyes like the youthful idiot that I was, instead of realizing the GIFT before me. It has taken me a long time to realize why my mother was so obsessed about the next meal even whilst we were eating our current one.

    Now for the serious peasant, you need a scythe/sickle – a small one is fine. Useful in the fields and also as a weapon. They say my grandmother held off looters in WW2 with one. Her exact words were,
    ” Step onto my land and I’ll cut your heads off.”

    Maybe I was listening.

  6. Great post.

    I think the philosophy of using what’s available should run many facets of our life-it only makes sense. Even with energy. Places like the plains can reap the benefits of wind, the southwest-solar, the northwoods-wood heat, etc.

    Oh, and BTW great tomato.

  7. I know what you mean about Frances Moore Lappe. When I read her books in the 70s it was a revelation. Now when I reread them I wince a little over some of her choices of ingredients (all that cheese!) & their overall impact on cardiovascular health.
    I also attempt to create a new food culture based on the foods of people & cultures from all over the world. How lucky we are to live in the age that we do & have so many informed choices when it comes to food!

  8. Beautiful, thoughtful post, El. Don’t be gone too long ok? Just as you find inspiration from those before you, Those of us new to this lifestyle/foodstyle find much inspiration in you and others like you!

    On another note, I’ve nominated you for an award. Not as rewarding as that gorgeous tomato, I’m afraid!! Check out

  9. My GOODNESS that’s a big tomato!

  10. Debra: Permaculture interests me, too. I like the idea of getting it all within 600′ from my back door. Good luck with your fall plantings, and thanks for reminding me as more spinach, lettuce and peas need to go in now!

    Kelly: MFKF is such a delight, isn’t she?

    M: I think my tomato wins. I will post a list in a later post, maybe sometime this week; thanks for the suggestion. But I’m not so sure about your M&Ms…

    Liz: Inspiring, yes. I do want to put a spin on things, though, don’t you? I doubt I’d do well with the diet my great-greats ate daily.

    Nada, I’ve a machete handy…actually, I have a small scythe too; it beats the stinky loud gashog weed-whacker. But I do feel fortunate to have land. It’s like an insurance policy. I envy you your stories. My family has been horribly spoiled.

    BB: Thanks. The energy thing is one that I feel very “stuck” with, beyond mere consumption reduction. My electric is nuclear, and we also use propane and home heating oil. Stuck.

    Artemisia: FML’s classic Diet does not age well, but then, neither do Moosewood or a lot of other 60s/70s hippie fare. But her point was clear: eating meat, especially beef, consumes an unconscionable amount of resources, especially if they’re “finished up” on corn. But we are fortunate in this day and age to be able to pick our food cultures, aren’t we?

    Thanks, Ang, for the nomination, and the kind words. I don’t feel like much of a schmoozer. I’m more of a whiny polemicist most days.

    B&M: a big TASTY tomato. Brandywines are yummy.

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