Saturday, May 2, 2009
2 Making the Connection: Nature, Gardening, & Fresh Food
As many of you already know, I'm a huge advocate of using fresh, seasonal ingredients, & staying away from eating/using overly processed, chemical-laden foods.
I believe that it is possible to live healthier lives & make healthier choices, even in the modern world, where time is of the essence, the twin forces of convenience & health seem to be in direct opposition to one another.
Or are are they really? Let's take a closer look at these ideas. What are we saying by choosing to blindly accept them as statements of so-called "fact"? Is "convenience" really a matter of perhaps making different choices that are, in fact, completely within our own control? Are we simply accepting the "cult of laziness" as inevitable conclusions because we think it's just a losing battle of "nature vs. nurture," & are convinced that our "convenience culture" has conspired against us & made it almost impossible for us to stand up for the forces of health & wellness?
Where is our sense of personality responsibility in all of this? Where is our indignation in all of us as a society having let it all go to "hell in a handbasket"? And why isn't this a more pressing issue, to be fought for & defended as a "sacred right" in our homes, in our school districts, in our local governments, and beyond?
I ask you: Why should convenience take precedence over health? What good will it do us if we take quicker steps to "make our lives easier," if these steps only lead us to a quicker demise? We owe it not just to ourselves, but to the following generations, to pick up the mantle of personal responsibility, and embody health in all that we do, & to advocate better policies in our communities -- locally, nationally, & globally.
However, it is not enough to fight against soda & junk food machines in schools, etc., or push for sustainable agriculture programs in our educational system. We must embody health -- & be healthy -- in order for our efforts to make any sense to the next generations. And then we must share our experiences with others.
One way to foster nutritional wellness is to start early in the home, educating our children, & teaching the next generation to appreciate the important of fresh foods & healthy eating. This is most effectively done -- NOT by pounding them over the head with "this is healthy, eat it," but rather involving them in the process of putting a meal together -- from gardening to cooking. Or, as it were, from picking to plating. (Grrr, I honestly find the use of the word "plating" to be highly irritating -- it's far over-used by the culinary community-- but there was too much perfect consonance in the expression to avoid its use. ;-) I don't care what other people in the foodie community say, the word "plate" should really only be used as a noun!!!! Anyhow, I digress.... ;-) ) Without preaching, you are literally showing them the value of these activities, by becoming involved in their growth in a fun & highly effective way.
Growing up in a rural area, I was exposed to fresh food, local farms, & farmers' markets, and -- thanks to the influence of my parents, maternal grandmother, & paternal grandfather -- became involved with gardening from an early age. We had a garden in our backyard growing up, & I have many memories of my grandparents taking me into the garden as a small child, pointing out the names of all the different plants & showing me how to care for them.
I was lucky enough to help take care of gardens as a small child, & it profoundly affected the way I saw nature & the world around me. Becoming involved in gardening & cooking as a child helped connect me to nature, & also to connect it to what I was eating.
However, you don't have to live in a rural area to appreciate the connection between nature & your kitchen table: Even in a city, you can still find a way to connect to nature. You can buy seeds & plant them in a community garden, become involved in taking care of public gardens, &/or grow plants on your window sill.
Likewise, I happen to live in a city, & have still managed to carve out space & a modicum of time for connecting with nature. I hike in the woods, visit the zoo, walk & run in parks & on trails, etc. And, to this day, I am still gardening, growing all sorts of non-edible & edible plants alike (herbs, fresh vegetables, etc.). Gardening is an immensely satisfying activity. I love nurturing plants & watching them grow. It's almost an indescribable pleasure.
Having these kinds of experiences is vital, especially as a child & young adult. Not only does it have a lasting effect on how the next generation will see nature & our planet, but it creates compassion & understanding that go well beyond surface components.
Even simple things like taking your child to feed the ducks at the local pond is certain to leave a lasting impression. I bet there are a lot of you -- who are now fully grown adults -- who still remember going to the zoo with your Mom and Dad, or the time you went hiking in the woods with your grandparents, etc.
These are just some of the ways in which parents & grandparents (as well as other family members, friends, & other mentoring figures!) can have an immediate effect on the way that (their) children perceive nature and health, & their social responsibility in context to both their own family units as well as the larger picture. These activities, while seemingly small or minor in scope, really do matter to children, & stay with them as adults, in unexpected & far-reaching ways. As the famous Mother Teresa quote goes, "We can do no great things, only small things with great love."
When children become involved with nature & the process of gardening & cooking -- putting their hands in the earth, planting seeds, watching plants grow & picking fruits, vegetables, & herbs with their own hands, & helping assemble these ingredients together for family meals -- they look at food in an entirely different way. The abstract concept of food becomes "tangible." It starts to make sense, because by doing & becoming involved in the process of growing & preparing food, they begin to understand their food in a deeply personal way. This is why children who are involved in growing fruits & vegetables have a much greater chance of appreciating & enjoying the fruits of their labor, in the most literal sense of the word. There's something to be said for becoming involved in this process; the experience changes us irrevocably. We can no longer be distant or uncaring. Once you connect to food in this way, there's no going back. And that is a sublimely beautiful thing.
So pay it forward my friends. And be well!