Or: How I learned about Organics, Locavores, Farmers and Farmers Markets.
I didn’t grow up particularly food conscious or in a gourmet household. In fact, due to the fickle tastebuds of my siblings and I, we had a food schedule at my house which was almost militaristic in its regimentation. Monday night meant you’d be eating baked chicken, boiled carrots and white rice. Felt like coming by on Wednesday? That’d be meatloaf, mashed potatoes and reheated frozen spinach. I admit to not eating sauce on my spaghetti (Thursday night) until I was at least 11.
Unsurprisingly the list of foods I didn’t taste until I went to college was long: alfredo sauce, asparagus, avocado, beans, brown rice, couscous, mango, salmon, sushi… How did yesterday’s conventional eater become today’s food iconoclast?
Answer: New Zealand.
The semester before I graduated college I was focused on one thing and one thing only, getting a diploma. I hadn’t begun to contemplate the inevitability or possibility of living on my own, employment, and paying bills. (As an “adult” now I’m not really how I managed this, but I did.) I don’t remember having any conversations with mentors about getting a job, nor was I prescient enough to pursue companies, job fairs, or any sort of path to a paycheck. This could have been a nightmare of stress.
Instead I was poring over the WWOOFing website. WWOOF, or World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, tacitly offered me the biggest adventure of my short life. And I took it.
Here I am at 21, enjoying the Wairarapa region of New Zealand after a day of hiking. On the above map, where I am is about 45 minutes away from Palmerston North.
Mostly I learned about food and how, paradoxically, it’s more than just what you eat.
Farmers have philosophies about why they do things the way they do, and what life is all about, perhaps particularly organic farmers. Many (but not all) of them like to talk about their methods.
So I learned from a lawyer who had gone part time in order to make wine from his own grapes and a hay bale home. Family farmers who talked about the layers to the land and caring for the soil (compost), plants (water, and weeding) and filling the air (beekeeping.) The owner of an eco-tourist farm and forest told me she always washes dishes as though there is nothing else she’d rather be doing. While picking radishes I discussed the nature of self-actualization and the soul.
These people loved food. And they knew about food in a way with which I wasn’t familiar. It was more than a trip to the supermarket, or restaurant. This food, animals and vegetables, came from somewhere, someplace where they had seen it unfold; seed to slaughter. To me this was novel stuff. And because I was 21, and impressionable, and alone in a strange land, it stuck.
So. That’s where I started thinking about food. I would probably have continued eating happily ever after without that education. But now I don’t. There’s a whole lot of ways to think about food, and just eating what’s on your plate isn’t the way to start.