Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Eating Omily: Food for the Soul

On Monday I spent my morning on trains and buses, making my way up to LaGuardia Airport to meet my mom-in-law. She's in town visiting for a week to provide moral (and literal) support to my sister-in-law, who broke her hand last week. On our way back through town to the ferry, we stopped at Union Square to pick up supplies at Trader Joe's and the drug store, and for me to make my Monday Farmer's Market run. Monday is predominantly Egg Day for me, so my first stop was to see my friends from the Jersey farm offering cheese, tomato soup and sauce, eggs, of course, farm-fresh butter...mmmm...It was business as usual when three different workers greeted me by name, but my mom-in-law was pleasantly surprised.

"Oh, they know you!" she said. When I introduced my mom-in-law they said, "Oh, you lucked out with Emily!" and we laughed. She proceeded to chat with one of them about her visit, and her daughter, and my regular egg-procurer made his way around the table to joke in my ear about his mom-in-law relationships. You can be sure I pointed out to him that my mom-in-law wasn't the only one who lucked out in this relationship! Taking my carton, we said good-bye, and scurried on up the way, pausing to admire the beautiful tulips, the delicious baked goods...finally choosing a massive head of cabbage, and making our way back onto the train.

Obviously, the fresh, local, nutritious and sustainable products is the primary reason for my Farmer's Market addiction, but it's not just your belly that gets fed when you buy food from the people who grow it, and it's not just food that gets grown out of your transactions. You grow relationships with these people. You get to know them and care about them. When Hurricane Irene cost many of my Farmer's Market friends a lot of their produce: tragically flooded in the fields, we shoppers all pitched in to make donations, and extra purchases. A huge number of people threw dinner parties serving only Farmer's Market products, and accepting donations for those who could have lost their livelihood without the helping hand of someone who knew how vital their continued existence was.

How can we care if we don't know?

And how can we know if we don't care?

It's one thing to pick up the eggs labeled 'cage-free' at the grocery, and entirely another to look at pictures of the chickens who laid your eggs. One thing to look for the antibiotic-free label on your bacon, and quite another to hear the pride in the voice of the person who sees the heritage hogs who furnished your bacon rooting for grubs in open fields.
Nothing can replace a real relationship with the people who provide you with what you put in your body every few hours to stay alive. Not for you, and certainly not for them. How can we let something so vital, so intrinsic to our survival, be so separate from our daily lives? How did we EVER allow this to happen in the name of convenience?
When I talk about the importance of the Farmer's Markets, how every legal restriction in the world can be followed to the letter, but not in the spirit, how only a relationship ensures you know what you're eating, people tell me,

"oh, sure, that's very nice, but do you really think people are going to shop that way, instead of going to their grocery store to get everything at once?"
Maybe I'm naive, but yes, yes, I think they will, when we make it clear enough how much it matters, how much of a difference it makes. More and more people care about the quality of their food, and want to go straight to the source to ensure they're getting something worth eating. That's a huge and positive attitude adjustment that will absolutely change the behavior of slapping the Manager's Special into your cart to fill some unspoken quota about what constitutes a meal.

We can't afford to be lazy. We can't afford to choose the cheapest, and the easiest for much longer. We are costing our bodies, our children, our planet...this stuff matters. And it might matter very much to you in theory, but when you look into the eyes of someone who kicks ass day after day, making do with little, because growing food for the people around them is vital to who he or she is, it takes on a whole new level of urgency.
I'm a huge advocate of small steps. If all you can manage right now is to swing by once a week or just once in a while and pick up an item or two, please, do it! Don't be discouraged, it does make a difference! But while you're there, take the time to talk to these people. Ask questions, offer a smile. Let it change you. Because that's how we'll change the world.

~em

3 comments:

  1. Sounds like you have a wonderful relationship with your mom-in-law, Emily, and with your Farmer's Market sellers as well! Great pictures and even better points! And you are not naive -- you're right! xo style, she wrote

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  2. I like to think so...thanks for the support!

    ~em

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