Food Supply Blinders

 “Go to the store, and buy some vegetables.” If given this instruction, chances are, 90% of America would return with one of two things:

1. A can of corn, a can of green beans, and a can of peas, or perhaps the frozen versions of them.

2. A head of iceberg lettuce (or Romaine if they are particularly adventurous), a bag of carrots, and a bag of celery. Perhaps a head of broccoli.

If asked to get fruit, they would return with canned peaches and pears, or with a bag of apples, oranges, or a bunch of bananas.

Meats consist of beef, chicken, and pork, and seafood is a limited range of fish and shrimp.

These are the foods that commercial agriculture has determined that we need to have in abundance on our grocery store shelves, so we are conditioned to think of them as being the only things available. Sure, you think of onions, parsley, cabbage, or other similar foods that are also available, but this is still an EXTREMELY limited range!

The other day I saw a post on “What to do with the strange vegetables that come in your CSA box”. Those “strange vegetables” aren’t really strange at all! They are traditional herbs and vegetables that have been served up on the tables in regions around the world since time immemorial.

While there is some difference in regional availability of some items, our stores do not carry the wide wealth of cultural heritage that our ancestors knew. Since the industrialization of food, so many foods have disappeared from the collective memory.

Does anyone else remember eating ground cherries? I still remember the flavor. So completely unique there has been nothing else that even compares. I remember huckleberry jam. Eating smelt, fried in cornmeal. Parsnips in the soup. And the flavor of Jerusalem Artichokes – another unforgettably distinctive flavor that I can recall to mind even though I’ve not had them for more than 30 years.

Now, in a completely different cultural region from where I grew up, I am finding that the grocery store is pretty much the same here as anywhere else. But the garden potential is not!

Strangely, the gardens here tend to grow the same things as gardens elsewhere, even though there are many plants that grow here, exceptionally well, and produce better. Again, industrial agriculture has sanitized the individuality from the seed catalogs – that is, until recently. Within the last 10 years, the availability of regional foods is once again being promoted in seed catalogs, and there is an absolute wealth of foods which your grocer never heard of!

One of the great strengths of eating local is that some local farms are now returning to providing a wider variety of regionally appropriate foods. This means farmer’s markets, CSAs, co-ops, and on-farm purchasing provide access to some pretty amazing stuff.

We’ve also been conditioned to think of many things as “weeds”, when in times past, they were valuable forage crops for people. Some of them come up and produce long before your garden is ready to hand you a salad. Chickweed is a great example. It makes a very nice salad, grows prolifically, produces very early in the spring (often coming up before the snow is completely gone), and insists on growing whether you want it to or not. It is healthy and delicious. Instead of trying to exterminate it (this is the commercial ag solution – which feeds the coffers of the chemical companies, and makes you buy vegetables instead of eating the chickweed), we should be eating it! There are no problem weeds if we are eating them! And a surprising number of the most pernicious weeds are edible!

Locally, you may also be able to find duck, rabbit, pigeon, crawdad, freshwater shrimp, and other meats that you would not find in the grocery store. You may find grass-fed liver, marrow bones, and other good foods.

Look beyond the blinders of the grocery store food supply. Consider food in a new way. Look for sources for the old and traditional foods. Many of them provide the health benefits to compensate for the modern life, and hold the keys to preventing avoidable diseases. You don’t have to use them medicinally – you just have to eat a wider variety of foods!

Conditioning is a powerful thing, but breaking out of it is a wonderfully liberating feeling. We are told over and over that industrial agriculture is the key to “cheap food”, but in fact, opening our eyes and seeing what is already here, free, and discovering the things that grow best in our area with the least effort is the real key to affordable food. Small local farms, and backyard gardens can achieve this far better than large and impersonal “rule by popularity” industrial farms.

Take a look around, and see what you can find that you didn’t see before. Give it a try. There’s some amazing stuff out there, right in plain sight!

Grow a Garden!

Gardening doesn't have to be that hard! No matter where you live, no matter how difficult your circumstances, you CAN grow a successful garden.

Life from the Garden: Grow Your Own Food Anywhere Practical and low cost options for container gardening, sprouting, small yards, edible landscaping, winter gardening, shady yards, and help for people who are getting started too late. Plenty of tips to simplify, save on work and expense.