I spent tonight rearranging some cabinets in my kitchen to provided some extra space for a new bookcase to hold my extensive cookbook collection. This involved moving my dried food from one cabinet to another. I took the opportunity to go over what I had, consolidating some jars and mourning the last of the dried cherries and pears. I found one jar of peas and one of Jacob’s Cattle beans that had not been dry enough when I stored them and had molded in storage. I tossed the food with real sadness as I can remember the work that went into the planting, harvesting and processing of it. My grief got me to thinking about our relationship with food.
I think a lot of Americans see food as a two-part process. Food is purchased, then eaten, often while still in the car. Sometimes there is a brief interlude where the food is heated but a real connection with what we consume is too often missing. For those of us who grow even part of what we eat or spend time preparing food we have lovingly chosen, the connection is intense. The beans I threw away tonight did not come from a can. Having them involved first, preparing the soil. It was amended with compost from the remnants of other gardens and other meals. I made sure that each seed, beans I had stored from the previous year, was inoculated to insure a healthy start. I visited my beans every day and was thrilled when I found them poking through the soil. The beans needed a trellis. Bruce made them from some saplings he cut when he was clearing land for the corn patch. I fretted over the wet spring, then mulched as the summer got warmer. We checked our beans nearly every day, proud of how plump pods were. We let the beans dry on the vine before bringing them in to cure, vacuum sealed them in canning jars. We have eaten some of those beans often over the fall and winter. When I want them I need to remember to soak them first, then add them to a soup or casserole. It is not a casual thing. I enjoy perusing cookbooks looking for new ways to use my beans, anxious to serve them to my family but careful to retain some for planting in the spring. My mistake with storage means that I will need to purchase seed now or have no beans next year. Theortically, it could mean no beans ever again. My beans matter to me in a way the beans from a box or can from the market never could.
I wish I knew where I was going with this train of thought. I know it is connected to reading about a single mother with two kids who cannot feed them for a month on $600.00 in food stamps. She admitted that her son was a fussy eater and that she sometimes treated them to Chinese take-out or pizza. She had no way to grow food and few options for cooking from scratch. She had no access to whole foods and probably no idea how to prepare them. I can not help but wonder if some of our stimulus money could have been used to create community kitchens where families could gather to prepare meals. Maybe this could be done with existing infrastructure like school and church kitchens. Could we have spent some of the money on getting good food to the places that need it? Could we teach people how to have a relationship with what they eat with community gardens?
We all grieve differently. I grieve my beans by imagining a world where beans matter. Tonight, I will go over my Fedco catalog and choose some beans to add to my seed collection. Next year I will be more careful with storage.