In the introduction to his 2007 book “Jamie at Home: Cook Your Way to the Good Life,” food expert and chef Jamie Oliver writes about the love affair he has with his garden. Hours are spent talking, watering, weeding, and pouring genuine love into his herbs, fruits, and vegetables. His philosophy of food is based on “no-nonsense simple cooking” with natural and fresh garden preferred ingredients all year long. Gardening is one means to connect with your environment and protect the homegrown food without worry of pesticides and chemicals. The garden has become essential in our lives – canned and frozen fruits and vegetables are only a supplement to our food needs. We will pay for an exceptional meal and ambiance at a restaurant, often commenting to companions on the delight of being served fresh vegetables and a tender, flavorful filet. Our daily lives are rushed, and although the intent and desire are there, it becomes difficult to avoid serving family members processed meals or opting to buy fast food.
Walking through the grocery store, do you find yourself wondering, “How was this made?” or “What chemicals am I unknowingly feeding my family?” While some foods continue to be a mystery, the discussion of “what am I eating?” circulates in the news, among dinner guests, and with family members. How can we return to the basics to eat “real food”? Sometimes it takes learning what is hurting our health to guide us to make different choices.
The word “corn” in today’s “food vocabulary” expands beyond a vegetable. In considering “industrial food,” 99% of Americans are unknowingly consuming corn. It is found in:
- the sweeteners in soda and processed fruit juices
- corn-fed beef
- high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS)
- corn-oil fried foods
Experimentally, I pulled yogurt, applesauce, sweet relish, strawberry jam, and ketchup from my refrigerator and read each label. All the items my family members, and especially my children, enjoy and essentially “live on” contain high fructose corn syrup. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimated our consumption of HFCS was over 40 pounds per year, per person, as of 2007. It accounts for roughly 41 percent of all caloric sweeteners consumed in the United States. Our bodies cannot metabolize this highly processed product of unbound fructose and glucose; therefore, it produces body fat with faster effects than any other sugar. It is noted that the easiest way to end high levels of fructose corn syrup in your diet is to start with soda addictions.
If we look back 100 years, food came from farms and small markets. Food preservatives were not used; therefore, food was always fresh. The people of that time, our great grandparents and grandparents, were getting the full nutritional value from what they ate because they cooked at home and often prepared meals from scratch. Food did not have additives, antibiotics, or hormones for long-term preservation, and they ate mineral-enriched bone broths and organ meats.
Journalist, author and food activist Michael Pollan writes, “Farmers’ markets are thriving, more than five thousand strong, and there is a lot more going on in them than the exchange of money for food. Someone is collecting signatures on a petition. Someone else is playing music. Children are everywhere, sampling fresh produce, talking to farmers. Friends and acquaintances stop to chat. One sociologist calculated that people have ten times as many conversations at the farmers’ market than in the supermarket. Socially as well as sensually, the farmers’ market offers a remarkably rich and appealing environment. Someone buying food may be acting as a neighbor, a citizen, a parent, or a cook. In many cities and towns, farmers’ markets have taken on the function of a lively new public square.”
How do we take back control over what we are eating beyond the efforts in our backyard gardens? We can promise to be more selective in our food choices. We can return to long-ago habits and support our farmer’s markets and butcher shops, and invest time in reading food labels. There’s a bond of family unity when meals are made together. Why not learn how to make oven-baked bread, use strawberries picked in spring to make jam, or can applesauce using apples from a neighboring orchard in the fall? There are unlimited possibilities in food preservation, especially when you know exactly where your food comes from and what ingredients are required to create a jar of homemade perfection!