Dieting websites and the media like to talk about our “relationship” with food–how and why we eat, how we use food to modulate our mood or to fill emotional needs. They tell us that if we can identify our eating habits, we can change them to become thinner or more healthy.
A gardener’s relationship with food encompasses far more than eating. It is more than a late-night ice cream binge; it is a long-term affair. I plan the garden, till the soil, plant the seeds, water, weed, squish pests, and do a hundred other tasks before finally harvesting, preparing and eating the food. For some foods, the relationship lasts well over a year, from planting to eating (or many years, if you consider the fruit trees).
A gardener’s relationship with food revolves about the seasons. A vegetable out of season tastes wrong, leaves me unsatisfied. Likewise, when a food is in season can become a key part of my relationship with it. For example, artichokes have become a comfort food for me, because they reliably produce during the early spring gap when there’s almost nothing to eat in the garden.
A gardener’s relationship with food includes feelings about different varieties of plant. For example, I absolutely adore Brandywine tomatoes, so much so that I insist on planting them, even though they prefer a much hotter, longer summer, and don’t do well here. And I’ve grown very fond of Russian Red tomatoes, because they keep on producing until they are pounded down by repeated frosts, long after other varieties have given up.
A gardener’s relationship with food includes how a food is harvested and stored. Pumpkins make me feel surrounded by loved ones, because the family often helps pick, sort and store them. Hot peppers and garlic become special because of the care needed to string and braid them for storage, and their beauty as they hang in the kitchen waiting to be used.
A gardener’s relationship with food includes how it is prepared. For example, a jar of soup heated quickly for dinner when we all come home late is one of the most satisfying meals I know, because the soup was made by the whole family in an all-day team effort at the end of summer.
Most importantly, I believe, a gardener’s relationship with food is a mutual one—I nurture the food, and the food nurtures me and my family. I walk through the garden and am fed. And when the family sits down to a meal, we thank not only the cook, but the gardener and the plants for the bounty before us.