What is food? Logically, that should be a simple question, right? You eat it, it gives you energy, end of story. Not quite.

As I mentioned earlier, part of my interest in becoming independent is my dawning understanding that most of the food these days would be more accurately labeled as “food” or a food-like substance. I’m not talking about what’s sold by cartoon characters or with the query about your desire for fries with that. Most people know they don’t qualify as “healthy food.” I’m talking about the outside of the grocery store- the produce section, the meat counter, the fresh fish.

I would like to note that I am aware that some of my readers will be vegetarian or vegan (veg*an). I am not, but I know it is a or the answer on many searches for health and environmental responsibility. Many of the things that I am learning apply to everyone from carnivores to frugivores if not in detail than at least in broad strokes. I am not interested in a debate on the ethics of using or not using animal products. I am interested in sharing what I know and what I learn with anyone that can use it. That includes learning from other points of view to fill out my own.

Food, to me, is what nourishes you. Whatever the details of your dietary habits are, the gist is the same. There is the biochemical nourishment. You have to provide both the raw calories and the basic building blocks for your body to function and repair or grow depending on your stage of life. There is the mental and emotional nourishment. A thoughtfully and well-prepared meal, even if it’s just for one, is delicious proof that you are cared for. There is also social nourishment. Greeks and Italians tend to be the first to come to mind when it comes to social events and food, but they aren’t the only ones. Historically, proof of hospitality has frequently centered around the sharing of food.

So what happened? Lots of things happened on lots of levels, but let’s focus on the biochemical nourishment. My favorite description of grocery-store tomatoes is that they are a memory of a tomato. For a long time, I wondered why I didn’t like tomatoes anymore. I didn’t think people usually lost the taste for produce they liked as a kid. Then I visited my parents during tomato season. It wasn’t nostalgia that made that tomato taste good. It was the fact that if had been plucked off the vine that morning and was still warm from the sun when the wedges landed on my lunch plate. It was grown in soil that had been cultivated by my family for decades. It hadn’t been dyed and shipped hundreds or thousands of miles. It had no experience with pesticides and automated or immigrant harvesters.

Emotional appeals aside, the actual nutrient content of our food is diminishing. The link will be added as soon as I find it again, but it is USDA research comparing nutrients in the 1960s to 1991. How did this happen? We wore out the soil. We take, but we don’t give. Modern, industrial fertilizer is referred to as NPK. Nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium. A basic understanding of biology would tell you that the tomato we pull out of the field, even if it is just the memory of one, is more complex than that. The NPK does get used up the most quickly, so it makes sense that it is replaced in the highest volume, but the trace elements that the plants use are not being replaced at all.

Historically, complex foods were removed from the fields and complex nutrients were returned. This was frequently compost and/or animal manure. You may remember from early American history that the Native Americans taught the Pilgrims to plant the three sisters, corn, beans, and squash, together with fish in each mound. This returned not just what compost or manure could give, but helped to return the nutrients that had washed into the water, much like the silt and dead fish left by a flood would do.

So what do we do? We do it ourselves. We feed the ground with complex nourishment- our table scraps and manure from the back-yard horse down the road. We spend some time in the sun with our hands in the dirt bending and moving and caring for these plants. We feel the fresh air on our cheeks and drink out of the hose when we’re watering the plants. By the time the juicy, red tomato is ready to be picked, the biochemical nourishment will just be the icing on the cake.

3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by dado on January 19, 2012 at 2:01 am

    Food gives me the energy I need to do what I do.


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