(By Pamela Walker, author of “Growing Good Things to Eat in Texas”)
In the first place, what is food? In a culture where fake food abounds – processed, food-like items sometimes containing more non-food additives and preservatives than actual food – it can be hard to tell.
During the years since World War II, we have become an increasingly urban nation and have abandoned not only farming but also tending vegetable gardens and preserving surplus yields. Even cooking at home has declined as eating at restaurants and buying processed, take-out foods at restaurants and grocery stores have become predominant.
Consequently, fewer people are learning what real food is and how to shop for it and prepare it, which previously happened just in the course of growing up in a home where people bought raw, unprocessed food and perhaps even grew some and cooked it regularly.
Not knowing how to identify real food or cook it is so widespread that it cuts across all ethnic groups and income and educational levels. A woman I know from a wealthy, socially prominent family in which no one cooked learned the difference between iceberg lettuce and green cabbage and other such things only when she finished graduate school and began living on her own. At a university where I once worked, students of diverse backgrounds came to my house to help with a cookout, but they didn’t recognize garlic in bulb form, much less knew how to separate it into cloves and go from there. They didn’t even know how to slice onions into rings!
Perhaps most surprising to me, however, were women residing in a colonia in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas who were participating in a vegetable-gardening and nutrition project run by a local university. Ranging in age from 20 to 40, all had been born in the Valley or in nearby Mexico, and had lived surrounded by fields of various fruits and vegetables being cultivated. Yet they had adopted a fast-food diet to such an extent that they were as alienated from real food as people much further geographically removed from food production. Cucumbers and crookneck squash, for example, grew to enormous sizes on their vines, as if the gardeners had never seen these vegetables at optimal sizes.
What a dilemma: how do we go about eating real food if we aren’t sure what real food is?
We’ll help you get started … Finding Real Food.