Hi Dec. 2 Anon.,
I want to write something first to acknowledge how obviously difficult (um, impossible) it is to feed anyone on such a limited income but it all seems very trite. But still I want to respond to you with some experiences I work with and support farmers who are trying to do right things. This includes paying their workers living wages and even providing extended benefits to them (I’m in Canada, we have basic universal medical coverage for all). My community support agriculture (CSA) farmer makes tough decisions that affect his bottom line, like not growing foods using harmful chemical fertilisers or pesticides. He and his co-farmer -- his wife -- take into consideration both the consumers and the ecosystems that exist at and around their farm. This means that if an organic-farm allowed pesticide is thought to be okay for human consumption but harmful to the salmon in the river, my farmer will choose to lose the crop in the interest of keeping those salmon running in the river safe. These choices all cost his business money, and my farmer does not qualify for the big-business subsidies that large agri-business farms do.
I have a somewhat unique experience with grass-fed beef. I have always been food sensitive, and growing up in the ‘70s and ‘80s meant that I was considered fussy, not sensitive. Getting sick from the food I was eating was a constant experience until I moved away from home. By then I was bulimic, in part at least because of the denial of my situation. I was never skinny, and I was never concerned with getting skinny, this was not at the core of my eating disorder (bulimia). Long story short, through a lot of work and trial and error, I discovered that foods were making me sick (as well as some emotional/mental health issues). One of the worst culprits at that time (late ‘80s) was grocery store beef, which would give me the sweats, keep me up all night because I could not digest it, cause me to be sick to my stomach. Solving that problem was, at first, relatively easy: I merely said no to consuming beef. This was easy so long as I wasn’t visiting home.
Then I had the opportunity to go on exchange to a remote village high in the hills of Sumatera, Indonesia. Me being who I was, I did not want to look “fussy” or insult the people in who’s home I was living. So when beef was served, I took a serving. I was quite amazed about two things: It didn’t bother me and about an ounce of meat felt like enough. Coming from a culture of people who would easily eat an 8 oz steak at lunch, this was quite a shocking change. And I loved beef as a kid. I was amazed that I could eat it there with no bad aftereffects.
Here’s the things about the meat we ate in that village: the cows were at the end of their useful life as domesticated farm animals. The meat was tough and sinewy, which is why the meat was cooked all day. (An aside: a chicken leg was easily the size of a drummette (from the wing) here, but one was enough to sustain me for the next day’s activities. I always felt satiated.
I returned home and begged my local butcher to find me some grass-fed/non-medicated beef, but he (and he was an OLD GUY) claimed that my idea was nonsense. I returned to skipping beef and eating other proteins, as nothing was really available in my area.
Of course things have really changed in the nearly 30 years since my first trip overseas, and I can source grass fed beef if I want to ... or can afford it. But things have changed in my world too: I have three small kids, two of whom I homeschool (unplanned but necessary), which means we live carefully on a limited (though in no way impoverished) budget. We do not eat a whole lot of beef, and source our other meats as carefully as we can afford. Most of the time we at least buy non-medicated, but sometimes I come across a source of meat that is carefully raised. Some of my sources have dried up since legislation outlawed the small meat processing plants (well ... they made the regulations favour the bigger agri-businesses over the little guys -- some times the smaller meat producers can’t even find anyone to butcher their animals because the bigger processing plants won’t take such small orders!)
So the availability of grassfed and responsibly raised animals for consumption is not what it could be, mostly through government interference.
But. But. Again, in my experience, when we consume grassfed beef, a couple of ounces fill us where once I could easily eat 6 ounces of a factory-raised animal. And we maybe have meat dinners three to four times a week, where we used to have it at least once a day. Dried beans and other less expensive things round out the rest of our week’s foods.
I know that my farmers have used their CSA program -- that’s when I pay in advance in late winter or early spring for the summer and fall harvests to keep my farmer out of the bank loans system -- to contribute to lower-income families. He sells a percentage of his CSA memberships at a lower price than what I pay to ensure his food goes to a wider variety of folk than it would if he didn’t. I also am aware of other programs being developed at farms and at farmer’s markets to help lower income families to eat the same foods as I put on my table and if this raises the price of my foods a bit, so be it, I am happy to contribute to your family’s well being as much as mine and that of my family.
If you have a local farmer’s market and you have the time to go with your child, you should find that there are a variety of price points at the different booths and the room for a kid with special needs to explore (unlike the grocery store aisles). I don’t know what your particular circumstances are, but if you can take your time at the market and chat and ask questions of the farmers, you might find out which foods will give you the best bang for your buck, or that they sell their remaining foods for much less toward the end of the day. Most think it is better to sell them at a loss than to take them home and compost them. They may also sell you cuts of meats for less if you ask them, you just won’t have your choice of the finest cuts (but I think I can assume, based on your comment, that this wouldn’t be your expectation).
Best of all, you might be surprised at the earnestness of some farmers and you will start to see that some price their foods more within reach than others. While they do want to clothe and feed their own families and put gas in their trucks and pay for their seed and equipment without having to hit a bank for an interest collecting loan each year, I believe many of them feel that farming is their calling in life, rather than something that lines their pockets with gold.
I believe we all have a responsibility to do better at finding a political system that ensures the citizens can feed themselves and their families healthy foods. Somehow we have to figure out how to change our governments’ priorities in this matter. But I’m also not convinced that big agri-businesses that can throw huge money (check in California on the advertising budget that was used to ensure people were paranoid enough to not vote out GMO products) are going to do that in the end. The money that my government and yours (through our taxes) (and Obama and the Clintons are very much supported and support Monsanto and other agri-businesses) spend on subsidies, enhancements and tax breaks could be considered unconscionable in a society that supposedly believes in a “free market” world. Just think. That money could be used to support farmers that are doing the right thing ...
I sure hope this doesn’t sound preachy or instructional, because it is not intended to be such. Next week is our public broadcaster’s yearly Christmas food bank drive, and I’m really struggling with how they turn fundraising to alleviate hunger into a big feel-good party. Listening to this kind of event feels weird and wrong, year on year, when what we (society) really needs to do is a better job of somehow sharing the (nutrition) wealth. I’m also tired of being cynical and angry about this kind of disconnect, so I’m trying to figure out how I can fit into changing this pattern in a more positive way within my city (Vancouver, Canada).
On the off chance you are in Vancouver, you can find me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you aren’t or don’t wish to contact me, I wish you well in your quest to feed your family a healthy, balanced and yummy diet.
My mom was a reluctant cook who hated the job but did not want to spend money on take out and frozen TV dinners. Lucky for me, the rule in our house was if you cooked, you didn’t wash up. As soon as I was old enough (10? 12?) I began to prepare the family meals. The easy way out as far as I was concerned.
Now I feed my own family. Sometimes I feel that crushing boredom your mother talks about, but mostly I derive great joy from feeding my own family and anyone else who will sample my products. My mom died in the spring, and I am learning to make pie crusts (the one thing she did to perfection and I avoided like the plague) to fill the gap.
Thank you for the lovely story. You have a very lucky family.
I’ve been meaning to come back all week, especially since you, Joan, brought everything together. I don’t really have (outside) experience with recipe withholding, which is probably why I had such a strong reaction. I think (hope?) we cultivate friendships that reflect what we value, so I don’t think any of my friends would not share a recipe with me.
Lucky for me, my mother-in-law (with whom I have an uneasy relationship) and I are very different people, and there is no where she’d rather not be than the kitchen. My husband is Chinese Canadian and, as a kid, he dreamed of testing out the foods who’s scents wafted out of the houses on his walks home from school.
Meatloaf, tuna casserole, quiche, these are all dishes that he salivates over, even 20 years after we first met. But when he wants comfort food, I can easily make the dishes he grew up eating, or we can pop by his parents if he prefers. I don’t care to cook like her, so I don’t feel the competition. Still, Alison, based on my mother’s relationship with my paternal grandmother, I feel your pain ...
Growing up, we had a “secret family recipe” for chocolate chip cookies. My sisters and I still used it for our families pretty much until solid shortening became a “bad-for-us” ingredient: it was the recipe on the back of the “Chipits” package. My sister recently revealed it to her 20 year old son who has taken a liking to making his own goodies. His shock was the same one I showed when I found out, and my friends show when I reveal it to them.
Thank you again for Culinate, and your contributions to it. I enjoy reading the articles and the ensuing conversations very much.
I feel heartened by reading the comments below this story, it means I am with like minds as I read Culinate. And to be honest, I felt sad and sickened as I read the story itself. I really hope that the people who you sat with, the ones who hold their recipes like poker cards to their chest, read both it and the comments.
My mother and I both possessed a recipe for her signature ginger pear jam, given to us by my paternal grandmother. My mother’s recipe card was missing an ingredient, and as we made the jam, we struggled over which card was correct.
Did she leave the ingredient out by accident, or to trip my mother up? We never knew ... she was someone who cooked by “feel”, so it is likely. But because of what I knew of their relationship, I was always left to wonder. It really took the shine off of what was once a favourite treat at grandma’s house.
Were I to know someone who knowingly gave me or anyone inaccurate details of a recipe as requested, rather than give the “family secret” response, I would likely not dine at their place, as my stomach would be in knots at the thought of their lack of generosity. Their “etiquette” is flawed, in my opinion, unless honestly is no longer the best policy.
I sold breads at a farmer’s market for several years and have had many conversations with people about their bodies not being able to digest foods that they have enjoyed their entire lives. Eventually, in the discussion of genetically altered or GMO produce, I started to ask people this question:
If a food is altered to be drought resistant, pesticide resistant and pest resistant, doesn’t it stand to reason that this food might also be digestive resistant as well?
What an amazing conversation this is turning into! I love every comment ... and have to find my way over to this Richman article.
Interesting how many people talk of their mothers in the kitchen. My mom has a couple of recipes that are good, a lasagna comes to mind, but mostly she cooked to save money and feed four kids. She smoked so much she had little taste buds, and her mother had been quite the Martha Stewart of her time, everything turned out just so despite her working full time well into her 70s.
Of course my mother could bake, and bake we did, right along side of her. Early on she made bread and later mostly cookies, squares and pies. I made the cakes ... I couldn’t roll pastry to save my life.
But from the time I was 12, I couldn’t take the overcooked veggies, the flavourless meats, the lacklustre table. I took over much of the cooking ... aside from the roast on Sundays. This also got me out of dish duty which, when there were four kids and a dad too, was considerable drudgery.
My other grandmother was a real health nut: dark, grainy breads, excellent cheese, apples chosen with care, cherries from the great bing tree out back.
I think that these three women equally inspired me to be fearless in the kitchen, and my stomach’s preference forced me to keep things simple and clean.
My mother hates soups, would only open a can of Campbells, mushroom or tomato, for us. She still says she can’t see the point. I, on the other hand, cannot bear the store bought, even the broths make me gag, and will be endlessly grateful for the countless women out there, women I shall never know, who’s recipes for broths I have followed until I could figure out my own.
Thanks Harriet. It is these articles that make me love food and the world and have some hope, in a time when it seems hard to have.
@Kathryn & @CJMcD
The great news is that, despite the parents’ idea that their kids don’t have time to cook, their modeling home cooking will influence their kids immensely.
My sister has a low tolerance for chaos, so pretty much always cooked alone for her family of 4 kids and husband. Her kids are now grown, one has a couple of kids, and all cook very nicely as adults.
I mix it up. My small children love to cook with me, I struggle with the chaos, but love to share. I just know, though, that like with languages, the body learns even without the practical experiences.
That lucky kid might go home and volunteer to wash the potatoes next time ...
That is fantastic. I would like to add a couple of points:
Every time I “clean” a veggie -- take a skin off an onion or a garlic clove, cut the ends off of celery, take the greens off of my leeks and, best, take the ends off of wild mushrooms (or find some dessicated button ones lost and forgotten in the back of the fridge), I put the “scraps” in a ziplock bag in the freezer. I just keep adding them in. Ditto rejected parsnip fries, or whatever. We freeze the carcasses from our chickens, after eating them too. When I have enough (more or less), I cook it up as above (more or less), adding the salt and seasoning and carrots. FREE BROTH!
Also, I do skim the fat and freeze the stock in muffin tins so that I have “pucks” of the broth to add to recipes that require it, as well as to have more soup available for cold days like today. Think I’ll dig in my freezer for some now!
Great posting, thanks for the clarity.
Amazing how it just takes one moment, one decision, to change a future. (And of course, the hard work does follow ...)
Tears sprung to my eyes at the line, And finally, I agreed to go out and eat. I knew what would happen next as it is also my story, although my story is completely, and radically, different.
At 43, I know that my story ends well. I know that I will never be in the same grip that I was at 22. For anyone still in the throes of an addiction, it can end well. It takes a lot of honesty, a lot of guts. But the dessert is well worth the effort. And life can be truly delicious.
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Most of the time with cooking and eating, the rules are clear.
A father’s legacy
The vegetarian-cooking pioneer
Barbecue, tamales, cocktails, and more
Good on everything