by Chelsey Simpson
With Thanksgiving this week and the Oklahoma Food Cooperative’s delivery day last Thursday, I’ve found myself contemplating a very simple question: Why food? Of all the things in the world to care about, when and why did food become so interesting to me?
I asked myself this question on Thursday as I left the Food Co-op’s Edmond pick-up site after four hours of frenzied volunteering. Even though I completely understand when other volunteers burn out or have more pressing obligations, it would never occur to me to quit or leave early. Why is that?
Or consider the fact that I was really excited about my plans last weekend, which included learning to render lard with my friend and fellow Fresh Greens blogger, Tricia. I’m in my mid-twenties—why I am excited about lard on a Saturday night?
And while we’re at it, why is making a meal plan my favorite Sunday chore? Why am I considering learning to butcher and dress a chicken when I can’t bring myself to kill a spider without asking its forgiveness? Why do I get such giddy satisfaction when I realize that everything on my dinner plate is local?
I wasn’t always this way. I used to buy big bags of boneless, skinless chicken breasts at the big box store just like everyone else. But at the same time, my current obsessions didn’t exactly come out of nowhere. I’m still doing some self-analyzing and trying to get to the bottom of the issue, but these are my best guesses at “why”:
1. I don’t care about food; I care about people.
I have that “Longhouse Gene,” remember? I really like the community aspect of food. I enjoy speaking to people about the Oklahoma Food Co-op through my job as outreach manager, and I love the chaos and camaraderie of delivery day. People are the reason I volunteer time and again. Besides the people I see, there are the people I don’t see, the ones who are able to make more money off their family farm because I am their occasional advocate and food distributor.
On a larger scale, I like food because it’s a universal connector. People come together for food; the kitchen is the hub of every happy household. Even when I am alone, I can conjure comfort with my mother’s corn bread recipe. And because I buy locally, my cupboards are filled, not with eggs and flour, but with the names and faces of people I know, people I think of when I use their products. My husband even asked if we could send a Christmas card to the makers of his favorite product, peanut butter, because he loves it so much, and he wants them to know. That never happened when I still bought Jif.
2. Food is impossible to ignore.
You can blow off the rainforest, the dolphins and even starving children in Africa. You can ignore calls to recycle, use public transportation or spay and neuter your pets. But you have to put at least a little bit of thought into food every day, or else you will die. Not only does the elemental nature of food attract me, it forms the basis for a very accessible obsession. Anyone with a mouth can form valid opinions about food, and if one meal isn’t so great, another opportunity will come along in four or five hours.
3. I have a history with food.
I might have started my adult life buying from a big box store, but there are plenty of things in my childhood that pointed towards conversion. First of all, I grew up on a farm. We didn’t grow anything organic or sell at any farmer’s markets, but I knew where my food came from and fiercely believed in preserving the small-farm way of life. I also had a mother who cooked from scratch and occasionally had a garden. Sometimes we canned things. I’m afraid that if I don’t learn these skills, they will be lost to future generations.
4. Food is fun.
I think my generation of sustainable foodies is sometimes faced with the fun but daunting task of reinventing the wheel. We don’t have to create the process of pasta-making for example, but because most of us didn’t grow up watching our grandmothers roll out sheets of dough by hand, we have to teach ourselves. Discoveries like that can lead to very satisfying moments of “look what I made!” Three-generations ago, making butter was a chore, but for me it is a novelty, a fun craft I really want to try. A day might come when we need to know these things, but for now we can just play.
5. “Food, well … yum!”