We are getting into that good time of year. Here in the Shenandoah Valley, fresh greens, pearly white onions and tender snow-pea pods are out in the garden for the taking, ready to be tossed in a well-oiled wok with strips of marinated venison tenderloin. And there are still a few Mason jars of tomatoes, peppers, pickles and snap beans left on the shelf, home-grown food that adds relish, literally and figuratively, to life in the country.
Toss a little of everything into the mix along with some garlic, oregano and vinaigrette dressing. Decant a local Merlot — we’ve got vineyards in Virginia — into your best jelly glasses. Bake a loaf of sourdough bread and — move over Martha Stewart — you are a cook who suddenly looks like a chef and you’re serving a meal that is healthy in all sorts of ways, the fruit of woods and fields and locally tilled land.
One of the great pleasures and advantages of a rural life is our proximity to good food: vitamin-rich vegetables from gardens and nearby farms, dairy products and locally butchered meat, and, for those of us who hunt, wild food taken from the woods in the fall, especially the great bounty of white-tailed deer, a healthy source of protein.
You can do your health a good turn and also support the health of your regional economy by thinking about eating locally. You can reward food producers who fit gently into the rural landscape we all love and who go about their business in environmentally sound ways. This puts constructive economic pressure on producers to market healthy foods in ways that leave the land healthy. Even where this means paying a little more, good food is the great bargain in our lives.
Thinking about the quality and real cost of our food benefits us all in the long run. A useful primer on this way of thinking is Gary Paul Nabhan’s recent “Coming Home to Eat: The Pleasure and Politics of Local Foods.” Two facts from this informative, thoughtful book bring the issue into focus:
“The food we put into our mouths today travels an average of thirteen hundred miles from where it is produced, changing hands at least six times along the way.”
Behind a lot of those convenient, if not especially nutritious, supermarket offerings are miles of highway-clogging truck traffic and the demand for more and wider roads in quiet, rural places. There is fossil fuel use and pollution attached to the transportation of most everything we buy. And meats and vegetables certainly don’t gain in nutritional value from their long haul to market. Worst of all, very little of the dollar we hand to the cashier ends up in the hand of the person who produced the food.
No one is looking to subvert interstate or international commerce or bring the New World Order — whatever that is — to its knees. But it makes sense to vote thoughtfully with one’s food dollars and to eat as locally as possible. Bioregionalism, as it is called, is good for the palate.
Cruise the local food co-op and farmer’s markets; ask questions about where and how the food offered was grown. Educate yourself about the aspirations of smaller food producers in your county. Slow down and keep an eye out for impromptu fruit and vegetable stands; tap the brake when you see that “Eggs for Sale” sign.
Ecology is an affair of the health of our bodies and the health of our land. The food we eat connects the two in the most intimate ways. Nutrition — beautiful word — is a product of earth, water, air and light. The more we think about the connection between the health of our land and health of our bodies, and the more we improve both, the better off we’ll be.
Demand fresh food for yourself and your family — as much of it locally produced and naturally produced as possible — and you will have done a good deed for yourself and the surrounding landscape. That’s a tasty way to save the world.
Food consciousness leads to enhanced community consciousness. Barter your tomatoes and peppers across the fence with that stranger down the road, who ought to at least be an acquaintance if not a friend, and who has more melons than she needs.
Get chummy with a hunter or two. I’m too lazy to put up vegetables, so I trade venison roasts for those beautiful rows of Mason jars full of vegetables that line my cupboard in the fall. However you do it, eating well can become a pleasant pastime. Vote with your dollars, time and common sense for your own health and the health of the land around you, and for a renewed sense of community and security that we need now more than ever.