Thursday, October 14, 2010

Super Size Me ... My Way

If you asked me 10 years ago where my food came from, I would have naturally answered, “The grocery store!” Duh.  My selections were made based on the grocery store’s ability to provide a nice, sanitized presentation whether it be packaging or handsome looking produce.  Most people of my generation, growing up in an urban setting, would have answered much the same.  Aw…simpler times.

Ask me that question today and my answer takes about 20 minutes! This change in my response didn’t happen overnight.  It has been a personal evolution and revelation in the making.

A pre-Katrina visit to the Gallier House Museum in the French Quarter of New Orleans planted a seed in me for further contemplation. The docent who led our tour eloquently described daily life for a prosperous family, post Civil War. What resonated with me was the full-time effort it took for the lady of the household to plan meals for her family based on food availability.  Just think what it took to do this in a time before refrigeration and automobiles. Turning a mirror on myself, I remember thinking how easy I had it today. Trips to historical places like Gallier's, Boston's old town and even San Simeon here in California allow a chance to, just briefly, wear another persons shoes -- even if the person is long gone.

Around the same time, my mom, in an effort to provide the best possible nutrition for my dad’s health, had been seeking better food choices for her household.  She and I share the gene of inquiry! We would compare notes, but she was much better informed than I.  She’s the first person I knew to look to alternatives to prescription pills, but not excluding medical advice for better living. Her best piece of advice, read labels and understand what they mean.

So, I started reading labels.  Then I had to study what some of those strange things they were putting in my food were actually for.  And, what those strange things actually did to me.  Then I watched Fast Food Nation, Food Inc., Super Size Me and read Eating Well, Michael Pollan, Mark Bittman and Barbara Kingsolver among others.  In our collective effort to advance through the industrialized and communication eras, we, by silent majority, have allowed our food barn door to open wide. I feel like we've been taken advantage of while we've been slaving away at our jobs to pay for our food.  Doomsday?

I don’t see it that way.  The more information I have, the more empowered I feel. All but Fast Food Nation, provide a path to food salvation if you look for it.  Clearly, I’m a girl who views life as a glass half full.

Before long there was a wholesale clearing of our pantry.  High fructose corn syrup, partially hydrogenated oils, names of ingredients I can’t pronounce …all of it, gone from our diet.  We are now at the point that if a canned or prepared item has more than five ingredients in it, we will not buy it. We also won’t buy anything in it with ingredients we don’t recognize.

Lately, the food news has been anything but positive. While it can be discouraging, the way I try to ground myself is to ask, “but what can I do?”  The only answer I’ve come up with is taking responsibility for myself.  It’s the only thing I can control.  I can’t get more local than that!

So what have I done?  For the last couple of years, I’ve concentrated on getting all my produce from our local farmer’s market and have been greatly rewarded with better tasting food.  Added benefit…it actually is less expensive then the grocery store!  I’ve also dabbled in growing my own. Since moving back to California, the climate makes gardening a joy but I was clearly a novice at growing vegetables. No one told me I had to pick a zucchini the moment I observed it’s growth.  Nor did I have the where with all to know I should rotate my crops every year (one year I had a great tomato harvest and the next only two sorry looking globes).  How quickly a generation or two loses the ability to know how to grow their own food.  In my family tree, it was only two generations ago they led an agrarian lifestyle.  It’s a good thing I didn’t have to rely on my farming skills to feed myself.

Perhaps I should have picked the zucchini a day earlier

This last summer however, I was clearly getting better at my gardening craft by making soil improvements and generated the most glorious tomato vines that just kept on giving. Yes! The more I researched to improve my skills, the better the pay off. I’ve now taken it to the next level with my winter vegetable garden.

After this weekend, my patch is now a raised vegetable garden with a removable covering to protect the plantings from our California heat.  I enlisted my husband’s help and researched the plans.  After two days of power tools, much digging, assistance from our dog Sammi and 90 degree heat we have a 50 square-foot redwood plot with spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce, Swiss chard and herbs seedlings thriving in their new environment.  I’m already planning my winter meals around them.

Taking responsibility for myself has now become my hobby… not only am I’m loving it, I'm all the healthier for it!

If you want to build your own raised bed, these instructions were easy to follow and I'm pleased with the outcome:


  1. Love this post! I feel like I was enlightened over the last few years as well. I think for me it started with the Grocery Store Strike. Remember that? Suddenly I couldn't go to Vons or Ralphs and fill my cart to overflowing with packaged foods. Into my life came Whole Foods, Henry's, Trader Joes, the OB People's Co-op and the Farmers Market. Oh the variety! The freshness! The organic growing techniques! And your raised beds are beautiful! Brava!

  2. Trader Joes... love it. Whole Foods a big thumbs for organic meats, but pricey.

  3. So wonderful to read! I love the way you write. Your new garden is beautiful. Your zucchini is gorgeous! Isn't it surprising how much soil a raised bed requires? I think you've just explained to me why I had great tomatoes one year and the next, very not-great. I like the "no more than five ingredients" idea. You've taught me much! Barbara

  4. I am so impressed and inspired. As you know, I too have been revising my approach to food in response to newly acquired knowledge of the chemicals and toxins we have all been subject to for too long.
    For me, the excuse has been that I don't have a yard for my own garden. This raised garden is making me wonder if I could do this on a deck or a roof...? And so begins my education phase.
    Did you come across any information on deck gardens in your research?
    Great blog my friend!!!

  5. I love that covering Sylvia! Fantastic! I have a raised garden but I think if I covered it with something like that, I really be cooking. Great blog!

  6. For apartment dwellers, there's Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). There are CSAs almost everywhere even in places like New York City. Google CSA and your location to find them near you. You join a CSA--usually in the Spring but really almost anytime--pay in advance for your 6-12 months of fresh, organic produce, and get just-picked produce every week. My CSA introduced me to veggies I didn't even know existed, such as purple cauliflower. Organically grown, just-picked produce is just so much better--better for you and better tasting.

  7. Thank you ladies for the kudos. But more importantly, thank you for reinforcing that so many of us care. Ruth, really appreciate your input on CSA's. It's such a great resource.


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