On fear of food

No Fear:  I might tire of seeing them daily now, but come January, this will be a sight for sore eyes

One of the more interesting conversations I have had recently was (no surprise here) about food.  Specifically, the fear of food.

When in Boston, I spoke with a woman who runs her own CSA.  She and her husband had retired from teaching and went into “the hog business,” raising up to 300 heritage-breed hogs annually.  Her husband’s untimely death led her to shift her farming focus to vegetables, and the subscription service of a community supported farm was something she could handle, though it still meant a lot of work for her.  Her grandparents on both sides were farmers, as were her husband’s; but her mother was “modern,” she said, and did not have a garden or can her own vegetables.  “We had four children, though,” she said, “so having a garden was an inexpensive way to put a lot of food on the table.”

We talked a lot about her customers.  Because she comes to vegetable gardening from a point of her own personal thrift, she was quite surprised by her customers’ reasons for subscribing to her CSA.  “It’s fear, not money.  They’re afraid of food, the mothers especially.  I just don’t understand it.”  Were they afraid of your food, I asked?  No, but she sure gets a lot of questions about growing methods.  “A lot more than I used to get, anyway,” she said.

We talked a bit about our farm.  “So you moved to produce your own food,” she said.  Yes, but not entirely, I admitted:  I liked the idea of having a country kid, and mostly, we moved here to be closer to family.  “But the quality of your food means something to you,” she pressed.  I had to admit that it does, but, more importantly, it wasn’t really fear of what I was eating that motivated me to DIY so much as I wanted to shorten the supply chain to, well, no chain at all.  “No middlemen, or women,” I said, smiling to her, and admitting I had relied on a CSA for our city vegetables for years, and thus, on someone just like her.

I had to admit later that I was kind of envious of her.  Though she was nearing the end of her farming career (at 70+ she wasn’t going to be able to run a CSA forever) she had completely missed out on fearing what she ate.  Hers was not the path of food choices based upon anxiety.  She always knew her food, her vegetables, were good.

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17 responses to “On fear of food

  1. I think it’s an understandable fear. I switched to buying organics as often as I could way back when I was a student, and buying the organic stuff meant a real financial difference for me. Now that I own land, I can garden, so that’s no longer the issue. Like you, I enjoy the 100 foot supply chain.

    But what has become a bigger issue for me isn’t fear exactly, but ethics. In ways I won’t get into here, let’s just say that it was brought home to me very clearly that our actions have consequences. Even those actions we take without thinking too much. Even when the consequences play out far away and happen to people or creatures we will never have to see. I certainly don’t want to pay the consequences for someone else’s actions. And I can’t conscience someone else paying the consequences for mine. So we now source our meat and dairy locally from people I know personally and who practice humane farming. Occasionally, I buy dairy from a certain organic line I have a lot of confidence and trust in. I’m not going to become a vegan, because I do think ethical carnivorism is feasible. But I can no longer eat the misery produced by CAFOs and factory farming. Makes it difficult to eat out, which is a good incentive for a frugal life.

  2. This is absolutely one of the reasons that I’m suddenly so eager to grow my own food or get it from reliable sources. I’m starting to be afraid of the grocery store veggie section. All I can think is “What is ON this stuff? What was in the soil this stuff grew in?”

    That’s a scary place to be in.

  3. Oh, PS, Your Brandwines look divine!

  4. : ) People always ask me about the eggs. What do the chickens eat etc etc. The other day Mrs. WF’s friend came to get some free herbs from the garden and was shocked to see sheep “business” under the pumpkin bedding. She was worried about all kinds of diseases. I paused a bit and was not sure how to address her fear. It didnt occur to me that I had to worry about putting the somewhat “aged” sheep bedding and “business” under the vegetables was an issue. She also wants no bug bites on her beans and arugula : ) If she wants perfect in-shape Japanese retail style produce I dont think she is going to be one of our customers for too long : ) Most people love the unwashed, dirty poatoes I bring to the farmers market and then there are some who question if it is safe to eat the plum! What can you say? : )

    intesreting post. (I must admit I have/had a bit of a fear on the animals though – i.e eating your own chicken, lamb. Somehow the plastic wrap gives you a sense of security that someone did a test on the animals after processing and that it is not a medium of some mysterious disease : ) This fear is funny as growing up until 19 – all I ate was animal raised in someone’s backyard. People dont eat meat from the freezer where I come from. No examination is done after butchering and people survive just fine. Then again growing up we didnt have avian influenza or mad cow disease.

    btw, thanks for the advice on the freezer. It shall arrive on Sat and God willing all the broilers will migrate to the north pole over the weekend. I have been lucky – they grew up to be perfect normal acting chickens!

  5. I am becoming increasingly wary and afraid of food. About ten years ago my mother up and told me right out of the blue that vegetables weren’t worth eating anymore because there was nothing good left in them (she’s one generation off the farm). It took me this long to figure out what she was going on about (Mom’s either never been inclined to explain beyond the initial statement or I’ve been unwilling to hear it, not sure). My original purpose for gardening was pleasure. I like to make things grow. After awhile it became an issue of the fossil fuel cost behind the food and then, finally, it became an issue of what I was actually feeding myself and my children. A little more than a year ago we stopped ingesting anything that contained pesticides or hormones (and then I went and used sevin in my own garden this year but we’ll try to never do that again). We consumed nothing processed except canned tomatoes in the winter because I became unwilling to purchase imported tomatoes. Gradually our systems cleared out and we became noticiably healthier; fewer colds and no major illness at all. Then in February I spent a week in a hospital with no access to my own food forcing me to eat the industrial food or starve. By the end of the week I was so completely out of balance my body was behaving as if I’d just given birth and needed to feed a ten pound baby. This took awhile to get back under control. In the mean time I started to really look at the cost of inexpensive food and the ethical hazards of eating industrial meats and this is what’s got me where I am today, struggling to feed my family well and backing away from any kind of commercial food as fast as I can learn how to do it. And your blog is a bit of a bible for me. Thanks for that.

  6. Fear of industrial food seems reasonable to me. I also know folks who are afraid of farm raised food. A friend of mine was all set to split a hog with me and her mom (age 80, and lives with her) went ballistic and she had to back out. Mom insisted that “none of that meat be brought into the house” because it didn’t come from the supermarket and therefore wasn’t safe.

    I was stunned.

  7. Fear plays a part in my food decisions as well. Having a anaphylactic child means every food choice, for every meal, every family member (including the animals) needs to be heavily scrutinized. The easiest way for me to do so is to raise and prepare our own foods. The next best thing I can do is trust the farmers who raise our food, understand their methods/operations, shake their hand and trust them….with my child’s life essentially.

  8. I had a friend who was a wonderful flower gardener and exceptional cook. She loved growing her own vegetables — as long as the part you ate grew above the ground. No potatoes, no carrots, no beets . . . I think it was something about dirt . . .

  9. This too is why I want to raise my own food. I moved here to the country and yet I find no real farmers that have any thing to sell. Most people go to the dutch country store in town. But they do not realize some of this food is imported. Not farm raised. They had frozen redbaren single pizzas with frost bite on the pepperoni. I have yet to find a place to pick apples or buy local produce. I am at the edge of town now, and can not have a chicken. Yet I can watch the cows graze across the street. This town has rules. The only hope I have is to get the small farm around the corner and raise my own. I won the bid at a back tax sale and have to wait till Aug 25, 09 to get the place. It is vacant, And I can not do any thing to try to save it from further damage till then either. I so want to be like you and be able to share it with my Family.

  10. discoverunearthed

    I think it is great that you are growing your own food and great when people know where their food comes from. But I also think it is an over reaction to be ‘scared of food’, even processed food. Remember we are all living longer than ever before in the whole of human history! Get as close to your food as you can but don’t let the odd supermarket purchase freak you out too much!!

  11. discoverunearthed

    Oh, and if anyone has some quirky food growing stories, come and share at http://www.discoverunearthed.wordpress.com – cheers!

  12. Wow. You elicited a wonderful collection of comments here. I would just like to mention that when asked, I used to try to explain how everything I grew/preserved tasted so much better than the alternatives but so many people don’t know what a real tomato tastes like anymore that now I go right to my second reason, knowing where my food comes from and who’s been handling it.

    Meanwhile I see some lovely yellow plum tomatoes there. This is my first year growing them but The Mister who rarely comments on such things, thinks the yellow sauce just isn’t legit.

  13. Interesting post. In addition to the fear issue which I feel is fed by media hype (is it only recently that fear has been the big seller? fear of food, fear of others, fear of everything), there is also the lack of experience or understanding of food production. When everything before the supermarket is a black box, it is easy to fear what is happening when you finally start to think about it.

    We are still heavily dependent on our veggie, meat, and soon milk CSAs. In addition, I do grow a decent vegetable garden and shop at the local farmers’ market. I’ve been able to put up and freeze a good amount of food and we are working toward eating locally year-round. For us, I feel it is something that we need to work toward – it would be too stressful for us to jump right into producing all of our own food. Besides, I really value the relationships I’ve developed with the people who produce our food.

    The one other thing I’ve been thinking about lately (your final tomato harvest post fed into this too) is the problem of food distribution vs. food production. You mentioned that you needed to figure out what to do with 2 bushels of tomatoes. My first thought was – I’ll take them! The small farm operating across the street from us has been having a massive surplus of apples and peaches – I keep thinking that I could make enough applesauce with just the windfalls to meet the needs of many, many families in our town. Instead, they go in the compost pile (our shelves are already bulging with sauce, so we certainly don’t need more). Anyway, it is something that I think about. I might even try something to help the community (hold a class where people can come to learn how to make applesauce? We’ll use up those surplus apples and people will go home with new skills, full jars, and a link to a local food resource?)

  14. Wow… it never really occurred to me to think that I was afraid of food, but I am. Not because it’s below the ground or above the ground or whatever, but because of the stuff that’s sprayed on it, that the animals eat, etc. And to be honest, it’s less about what it will do to me, than what it will do to my children. I haven’t had kids yet, but I worry that what I ingest now and what I feed them later will affect them, their growth, their health, their mental capacities… I’m concerned about it from an environmental standpoint too, of course, and that was the catalyst to start with a garden, but how it will affect the health of my future child is a huge worry.

    I’m doing my best not to think this way, and to simply eat the best I can, but it’s difficult at times.

    (And I have to add a caveat… I’m very sensitive to the issue of overpopulation, I don’t want more than two children, but please don’t think that I believe I’m ignoring that problem.)

  15. this blog took my breath away….such a powerful yet sad truth.

  16. All: Interesting comments! I will say that the word “fear” is as good as any regarding people’s budding consciences of how what they eat actually gets made. What you don’t know CAN hurt you. My mother recently read The Omnivore’s Dilemma (yes, she’s a little late to the picnic but she can still come and eat) and assured me that her generation was raised to believe anything from the grocery store was good because the government regulated food production through the FDA. Wow! Such happy myths.

    Kate, ethics are related I think. Even if someone couldn’t give a rat’s ass for the farmworkers picking the stuff, some solace can be found in the organic label…if the organic product is grown in this country, that is. Again, I am envious of that woman because she has had no reason to fear.

    Taylor, thanks! The Brandywines (and all the others) were divine. I do believe it’s good to question sources, though. If enough of us get pissed off enough, then things should get better all around.

    WF, it sounds like your customer was just a bit out of touch. Would she really like pesticide-laden produce? It’d be bug-free. Personally, I think sheep business is the best! But I do hear you on the home-raised meat thing. I can never eat the same day…I have to wait at least one day. I hope your weekend “chore” went well and they’re all happily down in the new freezer.

    Alecto, baby steps. I did a post last year about the phenom you mentioned: We call it eating OPF Off Rez (Other People’s Food (eaten) Off (the) Reservation). It still wrecks our systems…though of course you have to choose the reservation you go visit: after my Wisconsin trip I am just great, mass quantities of wine consumed included. I had to laugh though as your reaction to your mother is the same as mine to mine.

    Hayden, wow. Too bad for them, huh? Again, my mother’s own dawning consciousness is a guide. “We’re from the government and we’re here to help you.” Um? And that’s why we check for mad cow on every 10,000th cow only? That’s less than .01% of what we consume in this country. And that’s only for BSE! Let’s not even go into e. coli.

    Angie, without something even so dire as the threat of anaphylaxis it’s good to question things. But you of course need to be exceptionally vigilant.

    Anne, it could be the dirt, especially if it was a city garden and near an old house with peeling paint. Earthy veggies have a bit more of a risk. But then you have to question, a risk in relation to what? I actually had dirt brought in for my city gardens for that reason.

    Grammy, glad to hear about the new property for next year! You can always look to http://eatwild.com for grassfed meats and http://localharvest.org for all other farm goodies near you if you have a hankering, and can’t find stuff nearby.

    DUE: Yes, I guess I do believe in moderation, for most people at least…not everyone can do what we are doing, and even for us a touch of junk food won’t kill us. As far as our longevity goes, I would not say the modern diet is the reason. Give us another 10,000 years and I will bet we can process HFCS. In the meantime, my kid’s generation will not live as long as my own, and it’s a crime.

    Marcie tell your hubby he ain’t right! Actually the lycopene is more prevalent in the redder sauces…but I even have green sauce downstairs from my Aunt Ruby’s German Green tomatoes. It’s all good I think. And yes, taste is huge, or at least it’s one of the biggest reasons I also DIY.

    Andrea, yeah. In one sense my overproduction of tomatoes was something of a sin. (Good Jah I won’t want them in my compost either as they will just come up in the garden next year and that is nothing but trouble.) Walking that line between home and off-home production is a tricky business: I really just want to be able to give away our surplus, and usually I can. A thrifty orchardist here actually put up a cider stand and buys all the windfalls from all the other farms in town (as well as his own) and charges $6 a gallon for the stuff. It’s good and unpasteurized but, it’s $6!

    Dakota, eeps, sorry to tip you off! You brought up a bunch of things in your comments that I have thought about and have gotten pissed off about for years. Why, for one, are women worried about what they consume only if/when they’re contemplating maternity? Has a woman no value other than her womb? Likewise, when you actually are pregnant, everyone seems to be hyperconcerned about what you are eating, or doing, or what have you. Jesus. Would that people showed an eighth of that concern for the child after it’s born. But no. Children go back to being property then, and you certainly can do whatever you want with your property. Somehow, wombs are communal property, and I just can’t get my mind around that.

    Kathy, indeed.

  17. El – you are absolutely right. A while ago I got hopping mad about that very thing when they dreamed up the whole “pre-pregnant” deal, where every woman, regardless of intent or physical ability, of child bearing age was to be treated like she was going to be or was pregnant. What are we, walking wombs instead of thinking, contributing members of society? I completely agree with you.

    At the same time, I do worry about the effect it will have on a future child’s health simply because I want them to have the best chance they can have. I guess I kind of feel like I can minimize future damage to my body, but some damage has already been done. It’s a really weird double think opinion to have. 😛

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