*h and i have been watching gordon ramsey, a famous chef, who has a show where he goes to different restaurants in england that are failing. each time, he shows them how they can turn the place around and become successful. after about 10 episodes (i can be a bit slow sometimes) i realized that he has a pattern.

no matter what type of restaurant he goes into, no matter what their style or price or ambiance, he makes them popular by tapping into locally sourced (often organic), fresh healthy meat and produce (pronounced prah- juice).

he takes these chefs, many of whom have come to rely on pre-packaged chemical-laden junky over-processed stuff, and he finds them connections for meat and fish and vegetables and fruit right in their own backyards (one day maybe in their front yards!) and they begin to learn to have a relationship with the food they cook and the people who produce it and they just turn on.

and the restaurant patrons turn on.

and everyone marvels at how wonderful it is.

and nobody says, oh this is so overly fancy- wow… but they all talk about how delicious it is (ok , since it is england they talk about how gorgeous and how brilliant it is, but i’m translating here for my american readers…). and it is remarkable, because all he did was essentially got them back to their roots. he taught them how to do away with the frills and get back to the food of it all.

and i realized that i think this is what jamie oliver does (i say i think this is what he does because i haven’t been able to see for myself yet. i can’t get his stuff on netflix, and when i tried to read his books i couldn’t get into the flow. but from what i’ve read about his concept, i think it hooks into this as well…).

and this is what joel salatin talks about.

he laments how far away we’ve gotten from true food. he correctly points out that many people can no longer identify the sources for our food (like where it actually comes from, or how it grows, or who grows it, or when it’s in season- and this was in animal, vegetable, miracle as well- another great book…) we are so far from knowledge about soil organisms that we have no idea about nutrients and what’s in food or should be in food or has no business near food.

he talks about a university that won an award for being “green” because they put bins in their cafeteria to collect food waste- which they then paid to truck 20 miles away to a composting facility, then paid to have trucked back so they could spread it as compost on their ornamental roses. he says only half in jest that the students would be doing a better thing- and a “greener” thing- to throw their food waste out the window and let it rot into the ground to build up the soil.

but when he says this, people think he’s a lunatic because they just have no clue about building up soil fertility.

my good friends got me a book called gardening without work, by ruth stout. it’s a great read if you have a library nearby, and it really helped bang the idea into my head that what you put into your soil will determine what you get out of it. this isn’t really the point of the book at all, but in one of my many “duh!” moments, i got that if you plant vegetables in soil and expect to get certain vitamins from that vegetable, then the soil (or something…) will need to supply that nutrient to the vegetable. makes sense when i say it, right? because a carrot can’t exactly sneak out to walmart when you sleep and pick up some vitamin A… so if your soil is totally deficient, guess what will happen to the food you grown in that soil??? but if you throw your food scraps onto a compost pile and that food waste rots, along with some other goodies like grass clippings (please, no lawn spray!) and/or dirt, and/or hay, and/or straw… and you put that compost into your garden, guess what your vegetables get? YES! those nutrients! cool huh?

and if you feed your kitchen scraps to your chickens, and they eat your grass or nibble your weeds (but not your neighbors’ flowers…), and they slurp up protein-filled bugs and such, guess what your eggs are full of? YES! nutrients! (yes, the sad corollary to that is that if your chicken is fed ground up chicken brains and sub-par corn and antibiotics then you’re also eating that. yes, i’m turning into a preachy egg snob, and yes i still eat store-bought eggs, and yes i know not everyone can have chickens, and yes i’m sad about that and yes i hope that will change and yes i want to do my part to change that and yes i will try to hold back on sounding holier-than-thou. )

but ditto for larger animals. we eat what they eat. if they eat feces and silage and hormones then so do we. and if they eat sun-kissed strawberries and drink champagne at garden parties then so do we 🙂

ok, yes, i just wanted to see if you were still with me after the egg rant 😉

but seriously- i know that right now good food is a privilege. i know that people who can afford to shop at whole foods hate when people say this, and they will get all mad in their LL Bean sweaters and say that it’s just a matter of priorities as they drive their prius to their local farmer’s market.

but we know that affordable organic wholesome food is really bull.

we know that cheap nasty chicken is like 29 cents a pound and organic free-range chicken is like $5 a pound. even here in seattle where organic is everywhere and there’s a huge market for it -so in theory organic stuff should be abundant and affordable- it’s still pricey.

so, what is there to do?

first let’s realize that knowledge is power.

let’s at least aim to know what we eat. let’s at least ask the questions, even if the answers aren’t pretty. let’s at least know enough so we are in a position to make an informed choice.

let’s not eat by default.

let’s not feed our family on ignorance.

let’s open up the paradigm a bit and think outside the box.

maybe you can’t afford those eggs or that raw milk. could you offer to do some farm chores in exchange for some farm fresh goodies?

maybe you don’t have cash, but can you babysit? can you organize or clean or cook? can you make jewelry? can you walk up to a farmer at the local market and make them an offer in exchange for something you want?

i have a friend with a plum tree and too many plums for her family (sad but true). i offered that i would take the plums and make jam if i could keep 1/2. she is delighted to get however many quarts of free jam instead of having a yard full of rotting fruit and i’m happy as all get out that i get free plums. win-win and all i need to invest is some sweat equity. (back in detroit i read about stuff like this and thought it only happened in dreams. sorry detroiters…)

i have another friend who isn’t shy about asking. she is able to get amazing stuff all the time just by simply asking. she asks u-pick places if she can come the day after the season closes to look for things the last truck missed. she gets more yes more times than she gets no. because people know that she is willing to can food, she once had a local caterer call and ask her if she wanted like 10 trays of beef stew that were going to go to waste for some reason. she pressure canned them and had instant meals for about a year’s worth of emergencies. all because she wasn’t afraid to put herself out there.

the more we can be flexible and think outside the box, the more we can create winning strategies for getting quality food into more and more bellies.

the more we can erase the idea of what a garden has to be, the more we can get people into the dirt to grow things. and the more you grow, the more you see how much is within your reach- this i know for real and firsthand! (check out the link to KGI on the side of this blog for a great resource)

the more we can actually think about food instead of just cramming it into our mouths, the more we will care about food, and i think that’s where change will start.

i say this to you after buying- i’m honestly not kidding- about 20 pounds of white pasta. this is on top of vanilla flavored sugar syrup for my coffee, and canola oil. so am i a food hero? not exactly.

but i’m aware.

i’m looking at labels.

i’m trying to make some better choices.

i’m skipping some things that i used to think were essential.

because sometimes when you know better, you really DO want to do better.

and that’s when it clicks.

did you hear that?