And I realised that half my enjoyment of food comes from the beauty of the colours and shapes in the pot and on the plate. That beauty is what turns an ordinary meal into an extraordinary one.
Here I am at the end of my 365 Days of Food blog challenge. Reflecting on the year, I am pleased–and a little surprised–I’ve managed to blog every day. Yes, some days were…um…half-hearted at best, and some posts were written in advance, to be posted automatically on days when I had no internet access. So there was a little fudging, but only a little.
And what did I learn from this exercise?
I gained a heightened appreciation for how much of my daily life revolves around food—planting, caring for, harvesting, preserving, preparing, eating…and cleaning up from all of the above. There were times during the year when I felt that dealing with food was the only thing I was doing, and I wondered if I needed to get a life.
But what is more basic to life than food? What is more fundamental to human cultures than sharing food with friends and family? On the last day of the year, I come full-circle—back to my first blog post of the year:
After a year of blogging about food, I would add that it underpins our economy, is woven into the fabric of human history, impacts the health of the planet, reflects our personal values, and is an inseparable part of our identity.
Thank you for reading and commenting all through the past year. Though it is the end of my 365 Days of Food challenge, it is not the end of my blogging. There will be more…maybe even a new challenge for next year.
There has been a great deal of hoopla over the past ten years or so about family meals. Some researchers have claimed they reduce childhood obesity, raise GPAs, reduce depression, reduce delinquency, and a host of other benefits.
The truth isn’t quite so amazing. When factors such as socioeconomics, family structure and other demographics are controlled for, it appears that family meals slightly reduce childhood depression, and that’s it. All the other ‘benefits’ are simply correlated with the other features that contribute to a family that sits down together for a daily meal.
But I like to think that, just as smiling makes you happier, sitting down to a family meal every day makes the family better. It makes it more likely the family will have the other characteristics that lead to higher GPAs, lower obesity, etc.
A family meal is a time to talk to each other, to discuss current events, ideas, and feelings. It’s a time to teach children manners and respect for one another. It’s a chance for quality time with the people we love—why not take advantage of it? You’ve all got to eat—make the most of it.
We eat dinner as a family every day, and on weekends, we eat lunch together. Sunday, we even sit down together for breakfast. Sometimes I’m reluctant to take the time for a family meal, particularly lunch, when I’m in the middle of the day’s work, and would prefer just to grab a quick bite and be on my way. But a family meal forces me to slow down. It forces me to check in with my family and see how their day is going. A family meal reminds me that my work is less important than my family, and I regularly change my day’s plans based on what I see the family needs when we sit down to eat.
Because we eat together, I not only talk to my family more, but I play more games with the kids, I do more projects with them, I go to the beach more often, and I stress less about life.
So pull up a chair. Fill your plate. Sit down, and tell me about your day.
My family loves food. We eat well. We eat a lot. But what I’ve come to realise is that we don’t just love food for its own sake. We don’t go out to restaurants, and we don’t wax lyrical about our favourite products from the grocery store.
For us, food is as much about how it gets to our table as it is about what it tastes like there. Food is a labour of love, a creative endeavour, a team effort. Food is inseparable from its origin.
Years ago, my son asked, “If we didn’t grow the ingredients ourselves, is it really homemade?” That is how deep our relationship to our food is.
I sometimes wonder if this is healthy—this obsession with food. But it really isn’t so much about the food as it is about the process and all the corollary benefits.
Producing our own food, we stay fit without paying for gym memberships, we have food security in the face of natural disasters, we learn to work together as a family, the children gain a sense of worth from helping to feed us all, we eat better, we reduce our impact on the earth…the list goes on and on.
Producing our own food is a way to nurture the family, a way to acknowledge our place in the natural world, a way to celebrate each day of the year and the gifts it brings.
Sitting on the benchtop in the laundry is a large ceramic crock filled with fermenting cabbage—in six weeks the bacteria bubbling away in the crock will turn it into sauerkraut.
Making sauerkraut is incredibly simple—it’s nothing but shredded cabbage and salt. But it’s not a pretty process—fermentation is smelly, looks disgusting, and should never be attempted by the squeamish. The end result, however, is delicious.
Being a good Pennsylvania Dutch girl, I love sauerkraut. It’s great on burgers and grilled cheese sandwiches, and goes well with almost any potato dish.
But I’m thankful we can make two years worth of sauerkraut at once, because the smell of fermenting cabbage could put you off the finished product pretty fast. Once the fermentation is complete, I’ll bottle the lot in pint jars—the perfect amount for a meal—and give the laundry room a really good airing.
This year, he made for me a clever rack for drying zipper bags. We use these bags over and over, washing them between uses. But the drying bags take up space on the kitchen counter and blow around the house on windy days. Not anymore! This lovely rack holds the bags open to dry. It is bolted in a convenient, but out-of-the-way location, and has arms that move independently and fold out of the way when not in use.
It’s a gift I know will get near-constant use for a very long time.