Before Michael Pollan there was Barbara Beatty. Who’s that you may ask? Barbara is my mom. My mom was born in 1944 and spent most of her formative years as a sharecropper’s daughter in Alabama. Since she was so sensitive to the heat and couldn’t work the fields, she did all the household chores and cooked for the family – eight siblings, my grandmother and my grandfather who apparently showed up just enough to expand the family . . . (that’s another story).
They had a wood-burning cook stove and prepared everything from scratch. Fast forward. She wanted a better life for herself and joined the Air Force so she could go to college. That’s where she met my dad, a kid from Jersey City, NJ. They got married and then I came along, followed by three sisters and kid brother.
By this time we were living in Jersey City. Mom didn’t want to raise us in the city so we ended up moving to my dad’s parents country house in ‘upstate NY’. The house, in Cuddebackville (yes, Cuddebackville – sounds so country, right?) had 40 acres and that’s when my mom went back to her roots.
Just about everything we ate was grown in our garden, foraged for, or purchased locally. We had a huge garden and ‘put up’ our food for the year by either canning or freezing it. We had fruit trees – apple, crabapple and pear. We would pick wild grapes for juice. I am not kidding. We would can quarts and quarts of grape juice ‘concentrate’. The stuff was really potent and mom would add water, a little sugar and lemon to make our juice.
We had a root cellar and would store all the root vegetables there. Mom also made all of our condiments – sauerkraut (I still have the crock), chutneys, something called ‘chow chow’ (popular in the south), relish and hamburger relish (my favorite!).
We had chickens for eggs and we ate them too. I remember processing 100 at a time. We always had a pig in the yard that we fed all our scraps to and then we would send it off to be butchered. A local farmer provided our beef. Mom would usually buy half a cow a year.
Our bread was homemade too. There was a grist mill in Gardiner, NY which was well over an hour away where she would buy 50 lb. bags of flour.
The woman was insane. She even made her own peanut butter.
My point is that I have always eaten real food that was grown organically and/or locally sourced. I try to do the same thing that my mom did. I have a garden that provides us with most of our produce. I use organic and nonGMO seeds and plants as much as I can.
This past year my garden produced – garlic, peas, pea shoots, fennel, beets, carrots, swiss chard, green beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, jalapenos, green bell peppers, eggplant, acorn squash, broccoli, potatoes and an assortment of herbs.
My husband provides us with fish and venison.
What’s my point? I believe that it is very important to cook using as little processed food as possible. Cook using raw ingredients. I subscribe to what Michael Pollan says ‘don’t eat anything that doesn’t rot’.
I also believe that what Maya Angelou says is true – ‘when you know better you do better.’
I am not on a mission to tell people what to eat. My blog is not a forum for organic food, locally-sourced food, non-GMO food, or food that’s BPA-free, steroid-free or hormone-free. I choose to eat that way as much as I can but I am not going to tell anyone else that they should.
That being said, I am not going to apologize for eating the occasional ‘hormonal’ chicken or food out of a can that’s probably lined with BPA. And if I’m hungry and on the road, you just may find a fast food wrapper in my car.
The recipes on my blog can be prepared using ingredients that you can grow yourself, pick up at your local Farmer’s Market, grocery store or even Wal-Mart (gasp!). My hope is that you will have fun in your kitchen and that eventually your default will go from ‘where can I stop on the way home tonight’ to ‘I can whip up dinner in a half hour or so’.
Start by using the best ingredients that your budget can bear and then go from there. As you ‘know better’, you’ll continue to ‘do better’.
Mom, I didn’t appreciate it when you packed my lunch on brown bread and sent me to school with homemade chicken noodle soup – complete with layer of chicken fat on top. I really wanted Suzy’s Wonder Bread and Campbell’s chicken noodle soup. Thank you for providing me with the foundation for healthy and clean eating.
Great post, and a great food “philosophy” . Just stay out of the center aisles of the supermarket, and eat the real stuff around the perimeter. If you can grow it (or catch it) yourself it’s probably better for you, and it will definitely taste better – for a whole lot of reasons having nothing to do with flavor.
PS – Love your writing.
KIm–sounds like your mom was a wise woman! We always had a huge garden growing up, and my parents used it all in one way or another.
I’ve ‘grown into’ my food philosophy: the closest to Nature it is, the better it is for you. Like Michael said ” eat food, not too much and mostly plants”. My daughter has been a vegetarian for 2 years now and I’ve learned a lot along the way–and feel a heck of a lot better for it. I am more of a “flexitarian”; I do eat “meat” but much less than I used to.
Great post–as usual!