Sunday, March 27, 2011

Changing the value equation

I heard the phrase "changing the value equation" last week at the Family Farmed Expo, a local food and sustainable agriculture event. I'm apparently the last person in America to hear this phrase, as it pops up on Google in all sorts of contexts (I'm just not up on my jargon), but I think it's particularly apt when it comes to our food choices. Is it really cheaper, in dollars and time, to purchase packaged, processed poison compared to what we lose?

Cost + Convenience ≠ Health + Heritage + Hospitality.

In fact, Cost + Convenience < Health + Heritage + Hospitality.

Our myths of origin are full of parables about food. Philemon and Baucis achieve immortality because they feed the disguised god Zeus. Jason learns the route to the golden fleece because he saves blind Phineaus from the monsters who are stealing his food. Hospitality centered on food rituals is part of every culture. Do we really want a culture whose food rituals are invented by a creative team at an ad agency?

The mythos of food preceeds the meal itself. Preparation is a powerful binder of souls--setting small fingers to shelling peas, or measuring ingredients, or mixing batter not only puts families in community with each other, it's how we pass the heritage of our food traditions. How many of us have strong, fond memories of cooking with a mother or grandmother? I can't imagine that it's the same to remember your mother pulling a frozen entree out of the fridge and plunking it into the microwave. Children shouldn't to learn to cook by reading the edge of the box.

The idea that our time and our intellect is too valuable to "waste" on cooking is presumptuous, misogynist, and anti-historical. It's also wrong. It is not less time consuming to drive through MacDonald's than it is to cook the recipe below from scratch.

Many creative pursuits have been described as the "first art"; I've heard both dance and communal singing (Glee for Ug The Cavedweller, anyone?) referred to this way. But I would suggest that our earliest rituals and arts centered around food--identifying it, following it, gathering it, preparing it. We're replacing a rich heritage with a pursuit of perpetual toddlerdom--want it NOW. YOU fix it.

Much has been written, better, elsewhere on the health costs we are paying for our processed diet. But it's not just about how it's affecting the health of our individual bodies. Replacing humanity's rich and millennially ancient food cultures with the simplistic ideas of "cheaper" and "more convenient" is costing us in the health of our cultures and our relationships.

Spicy dirty rice
1 cup butternut squash, cubed
1 red onion, sliced
2-3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon honey
2-3 chorizo links
Any green vegetable like peas, green beans, snow peas, broccoli, or chard
1 cup white or brown rice

Cook the rice according to package instructions. In a large frying pan, caramelize the squash and onion in the butter and honey. Remove the chorizo from the casing, break into small chunks and sautee with the caramelized vegetables. Cook til the chorizo is thoroughly done. When rice is cooked, add it to the meat mixture. Stir thoroughly, then add the green vegetables (these can be frozen or fresh, no need to pre-cook them).

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