While this is the last of the Big Four, it is by no means least in importance. Most of us like to eat and eat well. While some survivalists claim they can live on MRE’s forever, they will not last due to malnutrition or die from boredom. Without food we can survive a few weeks depending on how much fat you’ve stored up but after just a few days without food most folks are ready to pack it in. If you intend to live sustainably and comfortably and like to eat fresh, nutritious food, this section has a lot of sub-sections covering how to grow and raise your own food, how to prepare it and how to store it to keep it from spoiling or being stolen by predators.
Let’s get one thing straight right up front. Growing and raising your own food is not easier or cheaper then buying from the big box stores. You must be ready and willing to get up in the middle of the night if the hens start screaming. If an unexpected storm pops up, you must be ready to batten down the hatches, bring in the calves and cover what crops you can. Varmints will never, ever give up trying to get to your food stores and Mother Nature can throw us some pretty nasty curve balls just for her amusement. If you are smart and fortunate enough to join a co-op where some fellow crazies can watch your crops & flocks for a few days, you might get a vacation once in a while. So no, this is not for those who value their time in front of a video game or get attacks of wanderlust and take off for days at a time. That is why we have mega-farms raising animals in the most inhumane conditions imaginable. That is why we have mega-pharmaceuticals making ungodly concoctions right out of a Frankenstein novel. These mega-entities exist because there are many of us who would rather pay someone else to deliver ready to eat garbage to our local stores so we can pick it up and eat something bad for us quickly and without any fuss. In the words of Mr. Potter to George Bailey, “Do I paint a correct picture or do I exaggerate?”
I have been guilty of eating junk food just to be eating it. I was sort of hungry, on the road and there were plenty of choices available, so why not? A good friend of mine explained his alcoholism as drinking just to drink without caring what he was drinking or what it tasted like. This is a sobering thought. (sorry, I couldn’t help myself.) If we are to make any headway on eating healthy we must first decide why we are eating. Is it just to survive not really caring exactly what it is we are putting in ours or our children’s bodies. We must stop and look at what and how we are eating. If not for ourselves, think about what our children are eating. Most of the folks I work with take the majority of their meals on the run. We are late for a meeting so we grab some fast food, wolf it down and run for the next meeting. How many families with both parents working come home exhausted with take out for dinner or simply pop a prepackaged meal in the microwave. How many parents buy those cute prepackaged lunches full of preservatives because their kids insist on them. Or worst yet, how many kids are called at home by their parents who are stuck at work and told to find something to put in the microwave and don’t watch more than 4 hours of TV. In the words of a great farmer, Joel Salatin, “Folks, this ain’t normal!” (Get his books. A great resource!)
Now, I’m not condemning hard working folks. It is a fact of life that we have been set on this merry-go-round of working hard to just get by from an early age. These days college kids are bombarded with “free” credit cards. They are given monstrous student loans and false hopes that a great job is waiting for them just as soon as they graduate. The reality is they are faced with a never ending debt burden and working where they can just to make ends meet, which never do seem to quite meet. These kids are eating the worst food possible if they even eat at all. I personally know several college students that some how survived on top ramen and beer for most of their meals at college. There are no common kitchens that I’m aware of in the student dorms were fellow students can get together with friends to make and share a healthy meal. Those great lawns that make a university look so cool should be torn up and replaced with large gardens where one of the mandatory classes for all students is to learn how to farm using natural methods and how to properly prepare safe, healthy food. (Can you just imagine!) They are discouraged from cooking in their dorms and the food at the food court is meant to be cheap, fast and filling. Eating for these kids is an after thought meant to keep them barely alive and functioning. I firmly believe that eating healthy fresh food, getting a good nights sleep and removing stress will help a person learn amazingly well, but that’s just my crazy thinking. What do I know?
Now let’s look at the stay-at-home mom or dad. They have all kinds of time to make great healthy meals, right? It boggles my imagination that with all our kitchen technologies, time saving devices and microwaves that we can’t eat better. Again, I’m not blaming mom or dad for substandard meals.(I know better!) The allure of easy to prepare, prepackaged meals is just too great a temptation when the laundry is backed up and the carpet hasn’t been swept in a week. Before I’m pilloried by the good cooks out there, I’m not talking about you. Thank goodness there are lots of you that take a great interest in feeding your family as best you can. But, unless your buying your fresh vegetables from a local farmer or getting grass-fed beef or free range chickens and eggs from a local rancher, you are not eating as well as you could. The ugly truth is a lot of our food is trucked in from great distances and colored, gassed and modified to make the trip and still look good enough to buy and eat, oh and never mind what it should taste like. I always enjoy seeing someone pick a true organic, heritage fruit or vegetable off the tree or vine and watch their amazement at the taste. Once I was able to get my first taste of grass-fed beef as an adult, I was immediately reminded of my childhood and that this is what beef tasted like back then. When I asked the waitress if the beef was fresh, she said it had come from a ranch less than a mile away just a day or two ago. That my friends is fresh.
Sorry, there are no magic bullets here. As mentioned at the top of this section, it takes a lot of work and cost to eat right. So again, ask yourself why do we eat. Ask yourself if you want to feed your children on hormone free, unmodified, naturally grown foods. I know some will say, “Of course I do!” and dismiss the thought as unobtainable or unrealistic for their current circumstances. Others will truly examine the solutions we will present and label them as “a lot of work” and “I just don’t have the time.” I always respond to this statement that in the old days they called “a lot of work” chores. If you didn’t do your chores there was hell to pay. If the cows didn’t get milked or if the crops weren’t harvested at the precise right moment, everyone could go hungry. The chores I will recommend aren’t nearly as tough as getting up at the crack of dawn to milk the cows or rushing home from school or work so you could plow the north 40 before planting time and then milk the cows again. There is a ray of hope! I am not advocating a return to primitive methods. We can use our current technologies to make our chores simpler to accomplish. The growing ability to work on our computers from home will allow us to cut out all that wasted commuting time and bake a cake while we are on a conference call. There are these great little chips with sensors attached that can alert you if the pH drops in the aquaponics system or if the greenhouse gets to warm. These alerts are sent right to your smartphone and you can respond back with directions to drop more alkaline or open the greenhouse vents.
While this technology will make things easier for us, there is absolutely no substitute for getting up early with a fresh cup of coffee or tea and leisurely checking on the girls in the coop or pulling a few weeds from the gardens. You will find yourself talking to the animals and plants and you just might be lucky enough to hear them talk back to you. Picking off the bad bugs from the tomato plants and feeding them to the chickens or fish is a hoot. After watching the hens for a while you will see their amazing character and silliness that just might make you watch a little less reality TV. (This is the real housewives of the farm reality!) There can be no denying the peace and restfulness you will derive once everything is growing as it should and you are just waiting for harvest time. The rewards awaiting you for all your efforts will be a healthy, sustainable lifestyle that somehow, somewhere we were told is not possible for us.
Many will just sit down and give up declaring it’s just impossible for me. I say hogwash! (a mid fifteenth century term for pig swill, these days it means don’t you believe it!) We can and we will begin to take back control of our lives and what we eat. We will know where every bit of our food is coming from, how long it took to get to our table and exactly what the food is made from. (If you can’t pronounce the ingredients on the label, maybe you shouldn’t be eating it.) One of my great joys was seeing my son’s elation on growing his first organic tomato plant in his own home built Aquaponics system and tasting something he didn’t get growing up. His enthusiasm and excitement should be shared by everyone.
So the answer to the above question, “Why eat?”, can be answered with a little bit of hard work, some good luck and a group of supportive friends. We will eat because the food we are eating is fresh and healthy and most importantly, it just tastes so darn good!