basket of bread - making food

The slow food and grow-it-yourself movement has become hugely popular in circles where people love nutrition, hate over-packaged, chemical-laced, corporate-produced pseudo-food and apparently don’t mind devoting all of their time to this project. I’m in that circle, but there’s no two ways about it—making food is the most time- and energy-consuming activity ever. Let’s say you feel like a tomato sandwich. Consider the following scenarios:

Scenario #1. Buy preservative laden food even though you know it’s bad for you.

You bike to the grocery store, do a quick tour, score bread, tomato, mustard or something. Bike back home, assemble, and put in mouth. It’s an OK sandwich. The tomatoes aren’t great, and the bread’s cardboardy, but it’s done and you’re full.

Total time elapsed: 35 minutes.

Scenario #2. Wholesomely make everything yourself.

This will start with a trip to the grocery store anyways, unless you’re growing wheat or rye, which you’re not. Once home, you will spend a number of hours making dough, letting it rise, pounding it, letting it rise, pounding it, baking it, burning it and repeating the process until you have preservative free, warm, delicious bread. And it is delicious, but your Sunday afternoon is gone, the tomato isn’t quite ripe because it’s only June and you don’t have any condiments on that sandwich.

Total time elapsed: I don’t even know… 47 weeks.

It is not astonishing that making food yourself hasn’t gone mainstream. Not only is it time consuming, it’s hard to keep up with. If I eat all the delicious bread in a day (don’t judge me), I have to make it again tomorrow. I assume if one had teenagers in the house, one would do nothing but make foodstuffs 24/7. It’s a never-ending project. Realistically, getting away from packaged, corporate meals takes a lot of sacrifices. Sacrifices of time and energy that lots of people frankly can’t afford.

It’s still worthwhile doing, though, in whatever capacity we can, because there are nefarious reasons why growing and making our own food has become less economical than relying on agribusinesses to provide. Global agricultural industries create systems of production that make them the most viable option when it comes to keeping us fed, but their practices aren’t always (or ever) of long-term benefit to us. Critics like Vandana Shiva have pointed out that the rise of the globalized monocultural farming industry has had a devastating impact on biodiversity, small farming communities (farmers now make up only 2 percent of the U.S. population), and even human rights. Like everybody, I often do want somebody else to take on the job of feeding me, but it’s a trade-off, and in trading off, I support the industry’s practices.

Making food is also risky. Not just in the sense that bread burns if you forget about it (stop judging), but in that seedlings that you care and provide for still might not make it to the point where they can provide food. Low-yields and crop failures happen all the time. There’s no guarantee that your patience and hard work will be rewarded. That’s what nature is—a risky enterprise.

Our culture depends on a stable food supply to exist. It’s great that there is one, but the down side of this is that we’ve gone to often crazy extremes to make it happen. Like having all foods available in all seasons in all times and places. Pineapples in Yellowknife are great in theory, but there’s a cost to that that doesn’t appear on the price tag. Modern industrial food growing methods have also given us an entirely false idea of how much food a single plant or animal can produce. Backyard hens lay one egg per day only under prime conditions and only for a couple of years of their lives. Modern dairy cows pump out 30 litres of milk per day, but that only happens through the wonders of genetic engineering, growth hormones and unethical management practices that shorten the animal’s life by 4/5ths. Large-scale farming industries don’t care about the lives they’re growing or the earth they’re grown on. Nevertheless, if you like contortionist acts, companies have some pretty neat logic tricks designed to make these practices seem natural and completely sustainable. Also (and this is my favourite), almost every single agribusiness will argue that their practices are environmentally responsible.

In the end, we’re mostly stuck between the rock of supporting ethically dark-grey corporate agriculture and the hard place of inexpertly trying to farm our own food and going immensely hungry at times waiting for it. Unless you’re a better farmer than me, which you probably are. Going the middle road and supporting local farmers and growers solves a lot of these problems, and are the most efficient way to get the staples of life, like kale. That said, a) small farmers can’t make everything for us and b) it’s still worthwhile doing some of it ourselves and waiting those 47 weeks for a sandwich, if only to remind ourselves of the actual work that goes into food production. Doing the work connects us to our food in lots of good-feelingy ways, but more importantly, it’s the most concrete way we can create an alternative to what corporate culture gives us.


image: roland (Creative Commons BY)