In the past year we have significantly changed how we eat at our house. We need to eat more healthily for our bodies, our community and the environment. Thursday morning, the first produce from my own vegetable garden appeared on the brunch table. This seems a good time to scrutinize how far we have come and consider further progress. Many factors have altered how I think about food, but two books stand out.
Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto criticizes the Western diet. He calls for a back-to-basics approach: eating real food rather than an array of nutrients and “foodlike substances” promoted by the nutrition industry. It also evaluates dining rituals. The greatest benefit of the so-called Mediterranean diet may be that people spend time together enjoying their food. In North American contrast, catching meals on the fly while we drive cars or surf the internet forces a disconnected, unhealthy relationship with our food.
Barbara Kingsolver and her family devoted a year to eating only what they could grow or purchase from local producers. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle records their adventure so movingly many readers will wish to emulate them; and we should. There is no better way to procure healthy food than to grow it ourselves. Likewise, purchasing from local farmers facilitates an intimate relationship with agricultural practices, while supporting local economy. Eating locally challenges the environmental and social costs of the food industry.
Here are some habits I have established to improve what we eat:
- Grow what vegetables and herbs are possible in our own organic garden.
- Experiment with foraging.
- As far as possible, purchase meat, produce and dairy from local sources at our local farmers’ market.
- Purchase other items such as tea and baking ingredients from a health food store mindful of sustainable practices.
- Minimize supermarket shopping and avoid the centre aisles.
- Avoid foods that have travelled far.
- Avoid prepared foods and anything containing hard-to-pronounce ingredients.
So how does our spring brunch measure up? Consider the photo.
Most of our meat comes from a handful of local farms. This delicious bacon was produced by Thatcher Farms, 24 km from home. Their philosophy addresses the importance of local farming in the community. This is a new vendor at the farmers’ market within the past six months. I look forward to getting to know them better, visiting the farm and finding out whether their animals are treated humanely as I expect.
Eggs and dairy
Unfortunately, three big egg vendors hold some kind of monopoly at Guelph Farmers’ Market. No one else can sell them there. Simply put, the products offered are inferior.
The eggs and goat’s milk for the scrambled eggs both came a local goat farmer. We always try to buy our eggs from him because they taste better and contain omega-3s. The disadvantage of relying on a small farm is they cannot be 100 percent reliable. Occasionally the chickens moult or a predator gets into the coop. A shortage means we must buy elsewhere and settle for lesser quality. The only other local farm that produces such tasty eggs is Harmony Alpacas.
The red onion marmalade is left over from a delicious meal the other night, butternut squash and chickpea cakes from Cook Eat Live Vegetarian. The red onions came from the farmers’ market, but I neglected to note the source. The vinegar and brown sugar are undoubtedly imported.
Finally, the fresh arugula represents the first produce from our own vegetable garden. It has been mildly nibbled but that goes with the organic territory. Danny bit into it and said, “Wow, that’s peppery!” Nothing has fresh flavour like something harvested from the Earth 15 minutes ago.
In conclusion, our eating habits have come a long way, but there is always room for improvement. I want to begin visiting the farms from which we purchase most of our food to understand the growing conditions and practices. Although I do not intend to cut out meat completely, I am looking for more satisfying vegetarian meals—nutritous for the body and easy on the bank account. I hope to grow more of our own food, but that will be a long journey.