“The single greatest lesson the garden teaches is that our relationship to the planet need not be zero-sum, and that as long as the sun still shines and people still can plan and plant, think and do, we can, if we bother to try, find ways to provide for ourselves without diminishing the world.” -Michael Pollan-
In his book, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”, Michael Pollan takes us on four different journeys by following the sources of four meals that he has eaten. We discover how the ingredients for each meal are sourced, and the impacts that these various ingredients have on us, as well as on the animals that are raised for our food. As he progresses through the book, each meal is sourced a little more naturally than the previous one. The last meal he presents is one in which the ingredients were taken from the wild—by hunting and foraging.
When I was younger, I was opposed to hunting. I didn’t like the thought of trophy hunters traipsing through forests that I wanted to wander around and play in! But I came to realize that if you’re going to eat meat, hunting is probably the best alternative for the animal. On our organic farm, my husband raised our cattle respectfully and gently. But they were still fenced in! They were still loaded on trucks, sent to the slaughterhouse to be killed, a traumatic experience for sure. The animal that is hunted gets to live his life more freely. Always outside, never fenced in. Then, most of the time, its death comes swiftly, painlessly.
The best-case scenario for the animal would be for us to stop eating meat entirely, for sure. I find it difficult because my body does better when I eat more protein and less carbs. And even though we raise the animals that we eat, we do not eat meat every day. I admire those who have been able to completely forego meat in their diets as I often feel conflicted about what we do to these animals and to the environment in the process of turning them into food. On the other hand, I have immense gratitude to the animals that are sacrificed for our food. Feeling grateful is a small gesture, the least we can do in return. Saying grace before a meal is something that we don’t see as often as in days gone by. We would do well to integrate it into our daily lives. It is such a beautiful practice, a valuable tool in cultivating a grateful heart.
The Plants and Animals that We Eat have Been Modified
The plants that we eat have been transformed by man’s interventions over time. I eat healthy, but the foods that I eat are modern versions of their plant ancestors. Rare are the grains, fruit and vegetables that look and taste like the original versions that evolved naturally, before the age of agriculture. Farmers, gardeners and seed growers accelerate natural selection to heighten certain traits. Traits such as flavour, appearance, size and shelf life. Sweet corn is much sweeter than it used to be when I was a kid!
The same goes for the animals we eat that are bred in captivity. They have been bred selectively to exaggerate desirable characteristics for the food trade. For example, chickens that are raised for eating have huge breast muscles, an aberration which would prevent a wild bird from flying in order to survive. If you eat meat bought at a typical grocery store, chances are that the animals that end up as your chicken or pork meat have never been outdoors. Beef cattle are usually raised outside, but mostly stuck in very crowded feedlots which have little to offer in the way of nature. I wonder how our bodies fare when trying to digest these food sources that have been altered. And that is when we eat healthy, unrefined food! Imagine the challenges our bodies have digesting processed, factory food!
Take a Walk on the Wild Side
I have been very lucky to have access to a lot of land where things grow wild. I learned to identify edible plants like wild leeks and mushrooms and this pursuit takes me on all kinds of terrain in the woods. It also has the added benefit of turning a walk in the forest into a treasure hunt!
Foraging gives us access to food that is ancestral and unadulterated. So much satisfaction comes from finding and growing our own food! It’s not surprising when you think on it. It’s been in our human nature always, except for a handful of generations before us. You and your community had to be successful at foraging, hunting or growing your own food or you perished!
I don’t think that there is enough wild food on the planet to feed the 7+ billion of us, we need agriculture for that. But if you can, try sourcing your food locally. From farmers you know, especially if you eat meat. That way you can be sure that the animals were raised outside, in the best possible conditions.
Foraging for our food can keep us fit as we need to cover a lot of land. Gardening is a different form of exercise, but one that likewise keeps us connected to nature. Shoveling, digging out plants and edging borders gets your muscles working and your heart going. If you are a gardener, you know the feeling of restlessness that comes at the end of winter. We are just itching for the weather to warm up so that we can begin working the soil. It’s as if we need to renew that connection in the spring, to feel that energy.
Check out these fascinating visitors to our flower gardens! They love to come in the evening.
There can be an initial investment when you decide to make a garden in your yard, especially if you bring in soil and mulch from elsewhere. But after that, you get years of enjoyment, not to mention the low-cost fruit and veggies. Homegrown food and the exercise that comes with it are both factors in maintaining good health. Flower gardens are lovely to look at and become creative endeavors. I love to move plants around to see the different visual compositions that can be created, much like applying paint to a canvas.
Of course, not everybody has land to garden on. More and more communities are offering space to set up community gardens, and we see a lot of creativity within the urban gardening movement. Gardening generates a lot of passion and makes for vibrant communities. Also, the interest in heirloom plant varieties makes me feel like we are getting back to some of the practices of our great-grandparents and the generations before them. It is heartening to see that urban chickens and their coops are making a comeback in our cities. Keeping chickens helps us to reuse our table scraps and incites us to make compost. Activities that go hand in hand with gardening, for sure.
Buy Local, Fresh Food
When you don’t have the space, the time or the inclination to garden, try buying locally at a farmer’s market or participating in a CSA program. CSA, or community supported agriculture, connects farmers to consumers who receive their products on a weekly basis. It’s the next best thing to gardening. Imagine all the carbon saved from the atmosphere because your food has not been shipped over long distances. It comes with little or no packaging, and probably many more nutrients because it is so fresh. All that, and better flavour, too!
Unfortunately, good food can be expensive. Farm subsidies exist, but a lot of that money goes to farmers who grow soybeans and corn, which are then fed to the animals we eat. That, or for making processed food. You can read more about that here, in an article by Time magazine. It is much too difficult for low-income families to afford healthy foods. Consequently, they develop health issues. Sometimes I wonder whether there isn’t some type of collusion between big agriculture and big pharma! Our institutions have failed us in this regard.
Growing our own food or sourcing it locally is a political gesture. It is a message to our leaders and to the corporate world that we do not want to be pawns in their profits-at-all-cost way of doing things. We need to re-evaluate our busy lives and how we use our hard-earned money. Does the way we spend our money reflect the changes we want to see in the world? Does the way we spend our time contribute to the greater good? For ourselves and for future generations…