“I could never use coupons. My family doesn’t eat that kind of food.”
You’ve heard this line before, right? You are trying to convince a friend on the merits of couponing, and they fire this well-rehearsed line back at you. I know it well. It’s the excuse I used for several years before I finally decided to see what this coupon hype was all about. My couponing habits have changed over the years, but I have found that it really is possible to be a conscious consumer and couponer at the same time.
One thing I have been thinking about quite a bit lately is our connection, or lack thereof, to the land. It bothers me that we are losing the connection between what we buy and how/where it was raised.
Think back in your family just a few generations ago; people’s lives were tied so closely to the soil. Crop performance, weather patterns, and herd health all had a direct and powerful impact on their lives. Not so much today. If oranges are too expensive because of a freak frost in Florida, we buy apples instead. If blueberries are super cheap in January, we toss them in the cart even though they lack any flavor or personality. If it’s too much hassle to be bothered with a farmers market, we go to a grocery store instead.
We often settle for less because we are busy and our budgets are tight. I get it; I am right there with you.
I think about these issues all the time. I think about it while my kids are munching on those perfectly shaped, often slimy baby carrots. I think about it when I compare cartons of eggs. I think about it when the price of bananas skyrocket or when good beef is hard to find or when my daughter begs for “fruit” snacks.
While the convenience and efficiency of supermarket shopping can be a beautiful thing, I think it’s important for us to be interested and informed consumers. I want my kids to know that carrots are beautifully slender root vegetables that are pulled out of the soil in a wide variety of sizes and shapes and colors. I want to do more research on how cows are raised and slaughtered. I want people to understand how eggs go from hen to carton. I want my daughter to know what a real peach tastes like. I want to support small family farms that are working really hard to produce a good product.
Ok, before this little speech gets too I-have-a-dream! for a Thursday morning, here are a few simple ideas to establish or maintain a connection to the land and an understanding about the food we buy:
:: Educate yourself. As you know, agriculture and the food industry are hot topics right now. The resources are limitless. Check out Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology (Amazon) by Eric Brende, How to Pick a Peach (Amazon) by Russ Parsons, or anything by Michael Pollan (Food Rules (Amazon) is a fast read and a great place to start).
Not a big reader? Watch a documentary; King Corn (Amazon), The Botany of Desire (Amazon), and Food, Inc. (Amazon) are some of the best I’ve seen on the topic. I am not encouraging you to swallow everything the authors feed you, but it should give your brain something to chew on.
It’s also great to educate yourself on where the food you buy is grown and how it is raised. Check the sticker on that apple or avocado. Read the label on the milk carton or meat package. All will list the country/state of origin. What do labels like all-natural, cage-free, vegetarian-feed, omega-3, or rBST-free really mean? All of this research will help you make more informed decisions with your money.
:: Grow a garden. “What does growing some of your own food have to do with repairing your relationship to food and eating? Everything. To take part in the intricate and endlessly interesting processes of providing for your sustenance is the surest way to escape the culture of fast food and the values implicit in it: that food should be fast, cheap, and easy; that food is the product of industry, not nature; that food is fuel rather than a form of communication with other people…” – Michael Pollan
If growing some of your own food is not a possibility, be creative! Check out some of the ideas below:
:: Dig in the dirt. Ok, I know I’ve mentioned this many times over the past several weeks, but there is an education waiting to happen in your backyard. By allowing your kids to get their hands dirty, they will learn about seeds and soil, weeds and compost. And have a good time doing it. My toddler counts herself the resident expert in our house on slugs [bad] and worms [good].
Don’t have any dirt to call your own? Borrow some! Squeeze your kids into their rainboots and explore a local farm, garden stand, or friend’s yard. Many of my happiest childhood memories involved dirt.
:: Buy/Pick produce in season. Growing seasons are totally blurred in the supermarket setting. Watermelons are available in December and cantaloupe are on sale in February.We can pretty much find any produce we want anytime we want it these days.
However, by buying produce out of season, I think we are training our tastebuds to forget what good produce should really taste like when picked at its peak of flavor. Fresh asparagas should snap in your fingers. Strawberries should be soft and sweet. Watermelon juice should drip down your chin in the heat of July. Buying bum produce, no matter how cheap, is a waste of money.
:: Join a CSA or buy from a small farmer. You can also check Craigslist for small farmers selling locally-grown produce, eggs, or meat near you.
:: Wander through a Farmer’s Market. Step away from the neon lights of the grocery store. Show your children carrots with dirt still on them. Buy some brightly-colored beets. Help them pick out fresh ears of corn. Show them lettuce that does not come in a bag with a side of Caesar dressing. Point out kale or eggplant or other vegetables you might not regularly purchase in the grocery store.
There is something incredibly refreshing about seeing produce that has not been waxed and stickered and packaged to within an inch of its life. Farmers markets can be one of the best places to educate yourself on what produce is currently in season and growing locally. It is also satisfying to support the hard-working farmers who grow it.
Leave a comment. Agree? Disagree? Think I am crazy?
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