On Sunday evening, I had friends over for a summer supper. We sat on the back patio and ate corn on the cob and potato salad and lightly fried squash and tiny sweet tomatoes. The ears of corn were not all exactly 10 inches long and evenly covered with kernels from end to end in straight rows. They were 3 inches long, some of them, and plump to bursting. One had zigzagging rows that were nonetheless juicy and delicious. Two ears were long and elegant, the race-horses of corn, which I gave to our guests. I picked them from my garden an hour before the guests arrived, along with the tomatoes—I had hoped some of the little yellow pears would be ready, or at least one or two big romas, but only the Sweet 100s were ripe. (In a week, I’ll be drowning in tomatoes, of course, but I will sun-dry them). The potatoes were a particular thrill—I grew three bags of them for the early crop, leaving these for last. They were white potatoes, some two full pounds each, their skins as thin as the membrane over an egg white.
As we feasted, I thought back over how much time and energy it took to grow this much food, enough for a single meal for four people. I started in March, with seeds under grow lights, and planted in May, and all these months since, the sun and the rain and the winds have come, day after day. I pulled weeds and fretted over onion grubs.
It’s humbling, and illuminating.
We all know the food delivery system is broken, a side effect of industrialization and subsidization. It seemed like such a great idea—feed everybody cheaply and easily!—but in theory, it isn’t working out. We all hear the stats—children are fatter, we are fatter, we are less healthy, and meanwhile, Somalia starves. This year, there have been three massive recalls of meat—36 million pounds of turkey, for example, which is a catastrophic waste of life.
We all want, most sincerely, to find answers, but when you’re dealing with such an enormous problem, it’s hard to know how to take a single step.
As a food writer, I have learned much more than I ever wanted to know about the food industry, and it has been enough to dramatically change the way I eat. I’m not going to bore you with all that, but know that I am a passionate eater, and love food, and the way it comes to us, feeds us, nourishes us both heart and soul, is very important to me.
One thing that’s clear about society is that it’s impossible to change big things all at once, overnight. But it’s surprising what little things can do. Little baby steps are good.
Think about cigarettes. Remember when everybody smoked everywhere? In grocery stores, in hospital rooms, in restaurants and malls and EVERYWHERE? It didn’t suddenly change overnight. It was one little thing at a time. No smoking in stores—that’s kinda disgusting. Smoking sections in restaurants. Take that cigarette outside, would you?
And now, we’d no more tolerate smoking in a grocery store than we would allow someone to poop in the aisles.
This spring, finally overwhelmed with all the information I had gathered in studying the food industry, I started looking for easy ways to start changing things in my own world. Here are 5 easy ways to change the world from where you are.
GROW SOME OF YOUR OWN FOOD:
Not everybody has the time, inclination, or space for a big garden, but almost everyone has a little spot for a planter of tomatoes, a bag of potatoes, or a bag of lettuce, or some peas growing up a trellis on the balcony. It’s good on so many levels that nearly every food-industry challenge starts with this single idea. It saves money and transportation costs, it’s more nutritious, it connects us to the cycle of food and eating, and gives a clear idea of how much energy it takes to produce it.
Besides, all that, the food you grow yourself tastes about 900% better than what you get at the grocery store.
(And that photo is one of potatoes I grew in bags in my backyard.)
SHOP AT YOUR LOCAL FARMER’S MARKET
This is fresh, fresh food. It supports the local economy. It reduces transportation costs. And again, it tastes really, really good, and you don’t have to do the work yourself. For a list of Farmers Markets, plug in your zip code here and find one near your home.
BUY FREE RANGE EGGS
Please. This is one of the areas I have trouble not banging the drum so hard I drive people away, so let me say it very simply. Last year’s recall of a half-billion eggs brought some attention to the subject of battery cages, but there is more to do.
This single act will make a massive change in the world. I know they are more expensive. They also taste 100 times better, and it is simple common humanity to ask that a chicken who gives her life to producing eggs for us should have a clean space, fresh air, and some room to move around. Simple.
That’s totally worth $2 a carton.
START A COMPOST HEAP
Driving a car is understood to be bad for the greenhouse effect. Cow farts are pretty bad, too, and to my absolute astonishment, I discovered that rotting food in landfills accounts for something like 34% of the methane gas in the air! That’s a dangerous greenhouse gas, and pretty staggering sums.
However, this is not as easy to carryout as the others, especially if you live in an apartment. But if you do have a little bit of backyard, you can have a compost heap, and it’s easy. There are all kinds of tools and buckets and styles to choose from these days. We have a barrel turner, and a stationary one with worms (remember I have a big garden and really lousy soil, so this was a good investment for me). The compost coming out of them is very rich stuff. Which will make for a better garden next year, and so on and so on and so on.
MEATLESS MONDAYS (or Friday or Wednesday)
Human beings are omnivores, and therefore, most of us like meat. In industrialized nations, however, we are consuming way, way more than we really need, and that demand puts a crippling pressure on the environment. Reduce your intake by going meatless one day a week and help save (and feed) the world.
What are some of your ideas for saving the world in teeny, tiny bites? Do you have a garden or a pot of tomatoes on the balcony? Or a Farmers Market in your neighborhood that you adore?