Why You Should and Can Cook at Home

Sometimes, an afternoon spent playing in the dirt with your son seems like a much better idea than cooking dinner.  In my eyes, practically any afternoon spent playing with my children was not time well spent, but time best spent.  When I speak to people about food, I get many defensive responses.  At the top of the list are: 1) I can’t cook, mostly because I never liked cooking and have grown to hate it, actually, which is very uncool these days because I can’t post a picture of what I just cooked on Instagram; 2) I can’t afford organic food.  It’s ridiculously expensive, and 3) I don’t have the time.  But there are many counterarguments for why you should and can cook at home.

Yes, You Can Cook

I am about to begin publishing a series of posts with recipes that are simple and straightforward, that even the most culinarily-impaired person can prepare.  I promise to include ingredients that most people use and eat on a regular basis.  No special kitchen tools, no ingredients that you have to buy at a specialty store or purchase online.  The goal is to encourage you to get into your kitchen.  Bring your children; bring your wife; bring your husband; bring your dog (ours are very good with clean-up when stuff “hits the deck”).  If you know how to turn on your stove, you are qualified to prepared these recipes.

Yes, You Can Afford Some Organic Food

Organic food is more expensive than conventional food.  I discuss this in another post.  But if you eat at a fast food place, and are feeding a family of four, you will probably spend about $25.  A pound of grass-fed organic beef runs about $6.50.  Add on $2.00 for rolls, $1.29 for organic leaf lettuce, less than a dollar for an organic tomato (less if you grow a tomato plant in a pot on your patio).  And maybe you get frozen fries for $2.50 (Not hard to make your own, but intimidating, so we’ll go with the frozen food section) and a bottle of soda for $1.99 (but you should drink water – it’s a lot better for you and much less expensive if it comes out of your tap and you filter it), you have spent less than $16, had some good bonding time with your family, and eaten organic food, and saved $9.00.

And you’re thinking, ‘Nine dollars?  All that for a nine-dollar savings?”  But let that add up.  Let’s say that you get fast food once a week.  Now it is $9 x 52 weeks a year, which is over $400.  Still not enough to get your attention? What if it also meant that your cholesterol levels returned to the normal zone and you could stop spending money on a prescription or two?  We tend to look at these kinds of things in a small context, but the truth is that what we eat and how we eat affects our physical and mental health.  So factor in time spent at the doctor – what is your time worth an hour?

Time is Relative

And speaking of an hour, the biggest complaint/defense I hear is “I don’t have the time.”  This is also a matter of perspective.  Some days are ridiculous.  We have them, too.  But many days are not; they are more I’d-rather-crash-on-the-couch-than-cook.  Let’s see if we can start to change that.

We can start with

Simple Burgers

  • 1 lb. of ground meat (you choose what you want to use, beef, lamb, turkey, etc.)
  • 1 t salt
  • ¼ t ground pepper
  • ¼ t onion powder

Mix all of this together and form four patties.  Fry them in a pan over a medium heat, about 6 minutes a side.  Put them on a platter in a warm spot.

If there isn’t any fat in the pan, add 1 T olive oil or butter and heat it.  Add 1 T flour and stir it around in the fat.  Add ½ C of milk, and stir until it thickens.  If you have some Worcestershire sauce, you could add a dash of that, but it isn’t necessary. Pour the sauce over the patties and take it to the table.

You can serve this with a salad that you have one of your family members make, or just slice up a head of lettuce and put some dressing on.

Start to finish, this takes about 25 minutes.

Spiritual Uplifting from the Strawberry Patch

The strawberries are done for the year. With a little sadness and the help of my daughter, I removed and rolled up the bird netting for another year. We had a good crop, about 15 quarts, which I think is pretty respectable for a bed that is 1 ½ feet deep and 25 feet long.

We also get strawberries from our CSA. It is one of the U-pick crops, so I like to get out there on the early-side, and crawl around the rows while it is still fairly quiet. I had two funny experiences in the strawberry patch this year. The first one was me being that CSA veteran, who always has something to say in reference to what to do with all the food we take home. It can be a little overwhelming, I think. This woman was saying that she didn’t know what she was going to do with all of the strawberries she was picking (2 quarts), that it was more than her family could possible eat before they got mushy. I commented that she could jam them, or put them in the freezer to eat frozen, make smoothies out of, or make jam later, which is what I do, that I had frozen most of the strawberries from my home patch because I didn’t have time to make jam.

Another woman was in the row next to me and she stopped picking, looked up at me and said, “If you grow your own strawberries, why are you picking these? There could be more for the rest of us.”

I replied, “I am picking these because the CSA doesn’t offer a ‘No Strawberry’ share.”

At the time, I was a little perturbed by this woman’s attitude – I paid for my share, and I will use all of the produce I bring home. Where did she get off even thinking that I shouldn’t have my share of strawberries?

But I realized that people come into the CSA with all kinds of preconceptions about how the community functions. In some respects, this woman is a theoretical communist – we all take only what we need. I can imagine her thoughts pertaining to the first woman’s initial comments, “If you aren’t going to eat them, leave them for someone who will.” But what was most interesting about this woman was what I saw when she left the strawberry patch, balancing her quart containers. Not overflowing, mind you, but exactly level with the top of the dry quart. She took exactly her share, unlike many people who try and balance as many strawberries on top as they possibly can. It can be amusing to watch them tip-toe out of the patch.

The next week, I was out there early again, and a mother was out there picking with her daughter. I am guessing the daughter was about three or four years old, very patiently crouched next to her mom, picking berries. It was one of those ‘wish I had a camera’ moments. The mom said, “Oh! Don’t pick the little ones. Only pick the big ones.”

I looked over and said, “We love the little ones. We call them sugar bites. They are usually really sweet.”

She replied, “Shouldn’t they stay on the plant until they get bigger?”

“Once they turn red, they don’t get any bigger.”

“Oh. Thanks!”

And we returned to our picking. So here is someone who knows nothing about how food grows. She only knows that she has never seen a tiny strawberry before because the only strawberries she has ever seen came from the grocery store, where they have to be a certain size and certain shape to make it into the basket. It was an awesome moment. A door opened. And not just for the mom. But for the little girl, who will grow up with an entirely different perception of food, and where food comes from, and how it is produced.

I find these two experiences uplifting because it illustrates how the CSA can work to shape cultural attitudes. In the first example, the woman is concerned with the people who take more than their share. It is an issue. I have seen people pick ¾ of a bag of green beans and call it a ½ a bag. Stand up, shake the bag and say, “That looks like ½ a bag.” I don’t say anything, figuring that the farm manager probably low-balls the amounts to consider that some people will high-ball the level in their U-pick bag. And while that woman was upset that I was picking berries even though I grow my own, I applaud her sense of being part of a larger community and her willingness to speak her mind.

The second woman and her daughter are the reason I will continue with this blog, and to continue to teach the Politics of Food unit in the classroom. Our American culture, for the most part, has no idea how food gets to the table. And there is so much political maneuvering, and corporate manipulation, that it seems nearly impossible for the simplest of processes to take place. In the classroom, the Food Politics Unit is something of a metaphor – for students to see that something as simple as grow food, harvest food, prepare food, eat food has become an extraordinarily complicated and cut-throat business. I think this is true for many things in their lives: my childhood was much less complicated; education was much less complicated; my working parents’ lives were much less complicated. The more technology makes things “easier,” the more techno-dependent we become, the more steps we create to get from start to finish, the less energy and drive we have to accomplish anything.

Food Disconnect

Fanny Burney, our camera hound
Fanny Burney, our camera hound

Student: “What kind of eggs do your chickens lay?”

Me: “Brown.”

Student: “No.  I mean are they the kind of eggs that you eat, or the kind that turn into chicks?”

Me: “Well, we don’t have a rooster, so they won’t turn into chicks.”

Student: “Oh.  Roosters lay the eggs that turn into chicks.  I didn’t know that.”

Me: “Uh, no.”

Yes, that is an actual conversation that took place in my classroom not too long ago.  And while I was laughing (and so was the student after an explanation), it made me very sad that so many people are so disconnected from their food. So I ventured a question to them, “Where does your food come from?”  The answers?  They varied, but they were all fast food places.

If someone asked my children that question they would tell you, “a farm.”  I’m glad that they know this; that we have the privilege of being able to go to the farms and buy our food direct from the farmers.  What strikes me is that my family is a minority, and it is a paradox – as food delivery and technology advances, we go out of our way to bypass the advances in order to get better food because the “advances” are actually a degradation.

Industrial food has created a system that creates distance between the food source and the consumer.  The more steps between, the more people can profit from the same item.  Economics really does drive our culture.  America took the success of Henry Ford’s car production and applied it wherever she could – to the food industry, to the medical/pharmaceutical industry, and now to education.  One size fits all and the faster and cheaper we get it to market, the better it is for everyone.

Everyone is going to college, or deserves the chance, or must because there are no more manual labor jobs available.  OK, I’m going to state the obvious: Not everyone is smart enough to go to college.  Stupid people do exist.  And you know what else?  Some people don’t want to go to college.  And manual labor jobs do exist, we’ve just become too elitist to think that anyone would want to do them.  Or we’ve out-sourced it because that is less expensive.  Or we created a system that doesn’t allow for us to see them.  And what irks me is that the colleges, especially the for-profits and community colleges, really do want all of these students to attend.  Why?  It doesn’t matter if the student passes or fails, as long as the college gets paid.

But then there is my friend Terry.  She decided not to go to college and become a nurse.  Rather she became an apprentice on a farm.  And two years later, she is happily working on a farm.  Outside in the fresh air.  And she told me that she could not imagine smelling hospital every day.  She is content.  And while the manager at my CSA did go to college, he was an English major, not a botanist, or a biologist, or an Ag major.

In a sense, this applies to the food system.  For the corporate public, it doesn’t matter if the food is good or just mediocre, or void of any nutritional value, as long as people are making money! That underpaid laborers are processing meat products is of no matter as long as the food remains cheap, which is all that seems to matter to the general public.  While we still teach children to sing Old MacDonald Had a Farm, we don’t teach them that the pig, with his oink, oink here and there, is also the bacon on that bacon cheeseburger.  When I suggested to my students that a steer they ooh’ed and ahh’d at because it was so cute might end up in a taco, they flipped out.  I was being too harsh.

Really?

But this is exactly what corporate industrial food desires – a complete disconnect between the meat on the hoof and the meat we eat.  Corporate food wants a consumer that doesn’t know that all eggs could be chicks if they were fertile and incubated.  This is the paradox: everyone has to go to college in order to be kept stupid and indoctrinated into the idea of corporate busy, so that we perceive ourselves as not having time to prepare foods for ourselves, or go to the farms and buy direct from the farmer.   My generation started our children on this pretty young.  I remember sitting at a pre-schoolers’ Halloween party, listening to the parents discuss the myriad of activities in which their children participated: gymnastics, dance, karate, swimming, soccer, T-ball, cheerleading, art, music, Mommy and Me Yoga, Daddy and Me Spanish.  During the pre-school years, my kids participated in dinner with Mommy and Daddy, every night between 5:30 and 6:30, followed by a game of See How Much Water We Can Get OUT of the Tub Before Our Bath Time is Over.  I was really freaked out that kids had four or five activities at the age of 3 or 4.  No wonder these mothers were ready to have nervous breakdowns – they worked a 40 hour week and then ran around for another two or three hours a day taking the children to different activities.  Why?  What is the point?  One mom told me so that her son could get into a better college.  I thought, ‘I never heard of a college checking into pre-school activities.’  And for the benefit of the child? Who remembers what she did when she was 4 by the time she is 7?

But by 12, she is indoctrinated into the busy mindset.  And this is what keeps many Americans dependent on fast/convenience foods.  Dinner is not something to eat at a table with utensils, it is something eaten in a car with fingers.

Fertile and incubated ideas can produce change, so educate the next generation to see food from source to table, and make informed decisions.  Break the perception of what corporate America deems is necessary, and make decisions based on what you need.  And when someone says, “A rooster lays an egg on the roof of the barn.  The roof has an equal pitch of 45° on either side.  Which side of the roof will the egg roll down if the wind is blowing ESE at 15 MPH?”, you will know that the correct reply is, “Roosters don’t lay eggs.”