Foodie Underground: Appreciating What You Have

ColumnFood is a privilege. Treat it that way.

“Making food makes you happy?”

I was on a walk with two friends and we had somehow arrived on the subject of food- a frequent occurrence in my everyday life. She was a bit surprised that food in general was on my list of things that made me feel good.

“Well, yeah.”

I thought about it for a second. “It’s a way to de-stress… if I have too much going on I feel good being in the kitchen and making something. It’s like a meditation.”

This was probably why I was feeling like I was having the Best. Weekend. Ever. I had discovered a new Mexican restaurant that didn’t have the typical Portland feel on Friday, scored a vial of truffle salt at farmers market on Saturday, and been offered up full access to a friend’s overflowing garden of tomato plants on Sunday. For a food lover, that is a pretty good three-day stretch.

Food does make me happy. Making it, thinking about it, talking about it. It’s true that in stressful moments I have been known to toss out the to-do list and go bake something instead.

I am not alone. Food can even be a way of dealing with larger issues. It can help us escape the mundane and it can help us romanticize our reality. Whether you like to cook it or just eat it, we are all affected by food in one way or another. There is a thrill in finding a new restaurant, thumbing through a new cookbook. Food is love. But that feeling is a luxury.

My mother and I were discussing a phone call she had had with my aunt, who in the course of talking about recipes had said, “isn’t it amazing how many recipes float around and yet we still can’t manage to feed everyone on the planet?”

It’s true. The fact that we even have time to discuss food is a luxury. While most of the world is concerned with putting the next meal on the table, or even just having access to basic nutrition, we’re frustrated because the steak was too salty, the artisan aioli was off the menu for the evening, or the creme brulée was burnt.

There is nothing wrong with the aforementioned behaviors – we do live in a modern society after all, and for those of us that have access to food, we have turned it into an art – but it is important to have perspective.

There were 925 million hungry people in the world in 2010, 19 million of those in developed countries. There are 10.9 million child deaths every year; poor nutrition plays a role in at least half of them.

Even if you are on a budget, when it comes to food, you are part of the 1%, and it’s important not to take our access and ability to talk about food for granted. The ability to appreciate food in the way that many of us do is because food is more than sustenance. We have what we need, and we know when we’re going to get it, which means we can relish in the details, be they locally harvested sea salt or homegrown fennel.

As I wrote last week, “In the modern age, if you are able to comfortably put food on the table, it is inexcusable to not think about what you are eating.” But that means more than just thinking about where your beef came from. It also means celebrating the people that produce your food, reveling in the simple joys of buying a handmade product, and thanking friends when they open up their garden to you. Not because these things are popular or trendy, but because they’re bettering our planet and communities.

I thought about all of this as I picked my way through 12 varieties of heirloom tomatoes on Sunday. To quote John Denver: “Only two things that money can’t buy and that’s true love and homegrown tomatoes.” It’s true. There are few things that are comparable to the smell of a tomato vine basking in the sun. I picked an entire backpack’s worth and carted it home on my bicycle, intent on making sun-dried tomatoes and storing them in olive oil and mason jars. This is not just late summer bliss, this is luxury.

We are privileged to be able to celebrate the moments where we grow our own food, when we produce a meal that is made with all local ingredients, when we make a meal from scratch instead of opting for something processed. Mere decades ago, these things were the norm, but in an agribusiness, monocrop, fast food kind of world,  they have fallen by the wayside, only to be slowly picked back up again.

Food may not be what you’re passionate about, but we could all take more time to think about it.

So this week, take time to be thankful for what you’re eating, appreciate the simple pleasures, and find a friend that grows tomatoes.

Editor’s note: This is the latest installment of Anna Brones’s weekly column at EcoSalon, Foodie Underground, discovering what’s new and different in the underground food movement, from supper clubs to mini markets to the culinary avant garde.

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