Sunday, August 30, 2009
This afternoon, for the first time in a few years, I put up 23 pints of peaches and 17 pints of pears. I am quite pleased with my efforts even though I am now very tired. I picked the pears out of George's pasture this past week and let them ripen for a few days in the house. I bought the peaches from Thomas Orchard in Watkinsville, a family run operation that produces glorious golden globes of ginormous goodness. It rained this afternoon, and I was grateful for the cool breeze from outside as steam from the canner filled my kitchen. I don't use any sugar and sprinkle on a little lemon juice to preserve the color of the fruit before I pack it in hot water. I love the sounds of canning--the perking of the water in the canner, the slinging sound when I screw on the bands, the little cheerful pops when the jar seals. I also love the feels and smells of it all--hot, squeaky clean jars and the fragrance of fresh fruit, lightly cooked. But what I really love is the result, and I will enjoy it even more in January when I open up one of those jars and inhale the fragrance of pure, delicious summer.
Ever since I saw Food, Inc., I have been thinking a lot about how much impact we can have with simply changing our consumption habits (which if you haven't seen it, is the take home message of the film). My friends and colleagues (who won't let me stop thinking about it) point out that we are not all equal when it comes to our consuming power, and our food system is broken and corrupt in a way that only enrolls consumerism of any kind into its project (i.e., big organic). People aren't going to walk away from a movie with a good feeling (read, tell others to watch it) if the take-home message is YOU are fundamentally a part of the problem just because you exist and eat, so change your priorities, not just the store/market you frequent; shut off your TV; put some more effort into getting your food in your body; and take responsibility for the calories you consume that might come at the cost of someone else's freedom or health.
Of course, being a dedicated local eater, (with a blog no less) I can't really say in good faith that we shouldn't change our consumption habits. I think that what we ALSO need to do is change our individual and collective relationship to food and agriculture. Lots of people view eating as something simply necessary for living and thus their food choices reflect a desire for convenience and quick gratification, among other un-self-reflexive and subconscious desires. Food, in this consumer's view, is a means to an end, and it shouldn't get in the way of more important things. I think for this person, going to the farmer's market might be the beginning of a new way of relating to food. As lots of people have pointed out, we have to start somewhere. BUT we can't STOP there. Given how tired I feel, I am having a hard time sincerely advocating for doing more, especially along the lines of what I just did. But I think doing something like this, along with other kinds of action on a variety of scales is essential to changing our food system. Rethinking our relationship to food means prioritizing a different set of values and objectives. I value getting my food from people I know, and I also value tasty food. I have an objective of health, which is directly and negatively related to how much sugar I put in my body. I also don't believe in buying food from people I know or eating tasty food just for right now, when it's in season and easy.
So, I take a weekend afternoon (when I could be doing a lot of other things--shopping perhaps?) and spend some time getting hot, sweaty and a little frustrated, cuting up my hands and burning myself (not badly!) with scalding water. When I'm done, I have a cupboard full of sunshine and a lot more control over what I put in my body for a lot longer than the season when the trees in my world bear fruit. In an interesting twist of irony, the product I have made for myself is not available in any store (so I can't just change my shopping habits), since there doesn't seem to be a market for unsweetened canned fruit. I don't get it. I eat unsweetened fruit with plain unsweetened yogurt and don't feel deprived at all. But I digress.
I'm actually a little sad that canning is over, because nothing in the rest of my week is going to make me feel like I've done something as important as this for myself. And, I probably won't get the same kind of sensual pleasure, measurable result and sense of accomplishment out of writing a paper or preparing a lecture, either. Try it. You might like it.