I cracked open my book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, en route to my trip to Spain and Portugal. This non-fiction book is about a family who makes a commitment to being as close to their food as possible by either growing and raising whatever they would eat, and if they couldn’t, then they’d make sure they knew who did. It dives into the complexities, contradictions, and demise of our food system here in the US because of how commercial it has become and how that is causing not only negative environmental impact but also the decline in human health. Little did I know, I would observe so many parallels while in Europe.
- I was walking through the quiet streets of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, France, early in the morning on my first day of the Camino de Santiago and I saw something I’ve only ever seen in movies. I saw a baker making her rounds delivering fresh baguettes galore to her neighbors. Whoa! This is what my book was talking about, knowing where and who your food comes from, and it’s totally still a priority in many other countries.
- Driving from the airport to San Sebastian, I saw the highway lined with garden after garden. I was told that they don’t want to build homes near the highway (because, really, who wants to live there?) so they use that space for gardens where people who live in apartments can have a piece of land to grow their food. WHAT A CONCEPT?! Turning this unwanted, unlivable land into fruitful food production. Could we rethink the way we design our cities to create a better quality of life for us? To make access to fresh produce more available to all?
- I went to a market in Barcelona, and the sight I saw was something not totally unfamiliar from what I’ve seen in other foreign countries but nonetheless all too unfamiliar in the US. Booths with WHOLE fish. Head, eyes, the WHOLE dang thing nearly still living. Same with other meats. Buyers could pick what they want and it would be processed right in front of you by women in bold, red lipstick and a giant cleaver. Why is it that our meat in the US has none of these parts visual to the end consumer AND a completely different name than the living thing? Pig becomes pork, cow becomes beef…you get the point. Could this disconnect be part of the reason we have no regard for food waste?
- The first thing I ate after my 48+ hours of travel to Lisbon was a grilled vegetable plate. The flavors were nearly unrecognizable. Nothing had ever tasted so good, so fresh and so nourishing. How many other people have never had the chance to try truly fresh, local and fully grown produce?
- Lastly, meals last for hours! It’s not rushed. You can’t even really find a cup of coffee to go. Food is a place for conversation, slowing down and enjoying life! We’ve traded this for convenience, but truly for what type of “wealth?”
The list goes on, but what I want to get across here is to bring awareness to how far we as Americans have grown away from our food. I hadn’t touched a garden until I was 22 years old, and as far as I knew food came from the supermarket without much thought to how else it got there. I know that I’m not the only one who is like this.
The importance of the topic is far more momentous than I can dive into here, but I wanted to bring the conversation to light because human health is directly connected to environmental health and some of the greatest assailants on our environment have to do with the conventional food system we have going on right here in the US. The solution? To prioritize local foods. And truly, the closer you get to your food the better it tastes, the more nutrient dense it is, the more you value it, and the better it is for the environment.
Interested in learning more? Pick up Barbara’s book. It’s a great place to start.
Want to get closer to your food?
- Go shopping at your farmers market. ‘Tis the season.
- Join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture).
- Hunt. Make a friend who hunts.
- Get a cow, pig, or chicken share.
- Shop at your local co-op.
- Garden. Or grow something in a pot near a window.