About this blog...

Food has been an important part of my life for as long as I can remember. Food and the festivities surrounding its arrival to the table has always been a focal point in our family. For many years I have been amassing the cookbooks, recipe cards, cooking journals, diaries, manuscripts and clipping files of our once extensive family.

Personally, I’ve been professionally involved with food for over 40 years in numerous and varied culinary capacities across the country so I also have the collected stories, as well as current and on-going food-related experiences from my own life I’d like to share.

My idea has long been that someday I would bring all of this marvelous raw material together into a culinary journey through our family’s heritage. This journal is the beginnings of that journey.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Some Thoughts On Eating Well

The New Year.  A time for reflection and resolutions. 
Around here it's a key time for review and planning.  We're starting our Winter Break at the Dairy so there's more time to think, not just DO.  Our Corporate Annual Meeting is coming up soon so we are focused on evaluating last year's performance and forecasting next year's expectations.
In addition to the business planning, although thoroughly enmeshed with it, is our annual planning for our food.  Since we grow almost all of our own meat and most of the vegetables  we eat, it takes some forethought to make sure the food is there when we need it.  
We need to know that the bull calf Belle had last summer will be the beef in the freezer in 2012 (and should she or Birdie have another in 2011, it will be grown for our 2013 beef). We need to know that if we are getting low on chicken in the freezer, we have to order the Cornish Rock cross chicks a month or two in advance to raise for 8 weeks, to butcher at a time we're not going to be too busy to do the extra work, so we do not run out.  
We've already ordered the weanling piglets that I'll pick up later this month in Tucson, that we'll raise on our cheese whey all season, butcher next fall for the following year's pork supply.
This is also the time of year for garden planning, seed ordering and bed preparation so that, come next summer and fall, we can be harvesting the produce that will get canned and frozen to get us through the following winter.
All of this is a considerable amount of extra work and expense when compared to zipping into the local grocery store to buy what ever is on sale with double coupons. 
Why do we do so much? We do it so that we can Eat Well.
What is Eating Well?
Think of “Eating Well” as a personal model of good-eating practices that one works towards and strives to achieve. Despite the seemingly simple precept, the ability to actually eat well on a consistent basis is more difficult than one might imagine.
To me, “Eating well” is eating foods that embody or represent the fullest combination possible of four key elements.  I offer these elements in this order of importance: Quantity, Health, Quality, and Responsibility.
Quantity: By quantity I mean sufficient quantity to provide sustenance.  Any discussion or debate as to what “eating well” might be, is moot (and is frankly, offensive) if one does not have enough food on which to survive.To the hungry, any eating is eating well. Sufficient quantity, therefore, must be the first consideration in eating well.
On the other side of the quantity scale is gluttony.  In our Big Box Super-Size-Me society wasteful and unhealthy serial gluttony is all too easy a habit to fall into.  It is contrary to eating well as surely as is hunger.
Health: There are foods which are good for us and foods which are not.  Let’s go a step further; there are foods on which we can live and grow and thrive and there are those which (at the very least) do not promote our long-term well being. Additionally, there are pure foods and there are impure, tainted and adulterated foods. We may not always know exactly which foods are which but (despite fad diets, junk science, and dubious assurances from chemical manufacturers) I’m think that most people understand the basics of a healthful, properly balanced diet.
Eating safe, nutritious food is the second component to eating well.
Quality: By this of course I mean good quality. We live in an amazing society where we often take quality for granted because it is so pervasive in our lives.  By the standards of much of the world even our most basic mass-produced consumer goods are of deluxe quality.  Unfortunately these high standards do not seem to apply to much of our food supply. 
Ignoring for the moment, the questionable nutritional aspects of typical grocery store fare, the fact is that much of the “food” offered there doesn't look nice, smell right, have proper texture or even taste good.  We have been trained to expect our produce to be hard and tasteless, our chemical-laced, characterless meat to be presented entombed in plastic and our dairy products to be ultra-processed, sterile, and dead. 
Without raising the expectation of quality to the highest level, eating well would simply be eating. Eating things of impeccable quality is another important aspect of eating well.
Responsibility: I believe that one must also eat responsibly to eat well.  To eat responsibly, in this context, means to look at the broader impact of our dining decisions.  This is a huge subject which is open to individual interpretation and personal subjection. 
Did you know that food in this country travels, on average, about 2000 miles to get to the end consumer? That just seems plain wrong on so many levels to me.  Considerations of consumer responsibility and awareness range from international socio-political-economic factors and fair trade, to global environmental issues to concerns for living wages for workers, the humane treatment of animals and the support of sustainable farming practices, just to name a few.
And then there is waste. According to a study by University of Arizona (UA) in Tucson, a shocking forty to fifty per cent of all food ready for harvest never gets eaten. The greatest part of this is lost along the supply chain but they also found that US households waste nearly 20% of the food they purchase. Fifteen per cent of that includes products discarded still within their expiration date and never opened. That much waste is completely unacceptable and irresponsible.
Eating responsibly, on top of everything else, addresses the more spiritual side of eating well, perhaps offering some nourishment for the soul.
Putting it all together
For most of us, quantity isn’t going to be a problem, so to Eat Well, all we have to do is re-direct our eating habits to include as many healthy, high quality and responsibly produced foods as possible. The best way to do this?  Grow it, raise it, or make it yourself, if at all possible.
The second best way?  Get to know some conscientious local food producers.  Go to a real producers’ farmers market (not a “re-sellers market”), talk to a farmer about his vegetables or his herbs or his eggs.  Visit a small dairy and meet the cows or goats and look at where the cheese is made or the milk is bottled.  Find a rancher who’s raising a few grass-fed steers or heritage hogs or pastured sheep, or some free-range poultry and learn about his meat operation.  And, lastly, support purveyors and providers who understand and appreciate the objectives of eating well.  
Following the path to eating well certainly takes a commitment greater than that for cruisin’ the aisles of MegaMart for weekly specials but the question needs to be asked:  "Do we want to eat well, or not?

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