I’ve always had a good relationship with food, in that I’ve never been a “picky” eater and I enjoy trying new things. I shop at markets, I cook frequently and I attend cooking classes both for fun and to learn new techniques. But the growing movement in organic/local/sustainable food over the last few years has opened my eyes to how little I actually know about food.
A label stating “organic” used to translate as “healthy” in my mind, but other than lack of pesticides I didn’t give much thought to what it meant. “Local” made sense, of course, although I used to occasionally complain about the higher prices; again, without giving much thought to the other costs involved with buying imported food. “Sustainable” was the confusing one – I knew the definition, but I just didn’t grasp the concept of how vital it is that we grow and raise food in a way that can be maintained for the next generation, and the one after that, and the one after that.
As with many things in life, the best way to learn about something you don’t understand is to do it yourself.
That was what first struck me when I entered the Puyallup Fairgrounds for the Mother Earth News Fair, held June 4th and 5th, 2011. The DIY attitude. A group of onlookers huddled around a man explaining the properties of a clay oven, from how to make it to how to cook in it. Young couples eagerly taking notes as a woman lectures on how to find the best land for your own organic farm. Children seated at tables learning to make cheese. Not cheez. Not “cheese flavored singles.” Actual cheese, starting with cream.
I watched a cooking demo where a chef prepared a meal of chicken breast, corn, mixed potatoes and other veggies, all completely without salt, butter or oil – and it was delicious. In another demo, another cook demystified food preservation by canning blueberry jam. Around the corner and visitors were swapping seeds with farmers.
One of the highlights of all of this for me was the crowd – all ages were represented. The kids who sampled that butter-free, salt-free, oil-free meal loved it. They watched curds form and kneaded dough with the same intensity many children have when playing video games. And I honestly lost track of the number of middle-aged or older individuals I met who were getting out of the rat race to follow their farming dreams.
When I attend conferences, I always come away refreshed and energized as a writer. I left the Mother Earth News Fair with that same feeling – motivated to be even more involved in food, to educate myself further. Just yesterday, I harvested my first veggies – arugula, pok choi and herbs – from my urban garden. And it will only get better from here on out.
Interested in checking out the fair? The next one will be held at the Marin County Fairgrounds in San Rafael, California on September 3rd – 5th, 2011.
My visit to the fair was kindly paid for by Ogden Publications, but the thoughts and opinions expressed here are my own.
[all photos courtesy of the author]