Lately, a lot of lip service has been paid to "knowing where our food comes from". Some of this trend stems from the food recalls on green beans, spinach, peppers, tomatoes, peanut butter, and seemingly everything in between. In theory, if we know where our food comes from- whether it's down the street or across the country- we're safer.
While that point is arguable, I think it is important to know where our food comes from for a different reason. The closer I am acquainted with my food, the more I will appreciate it. The closer I am acquainted with my food, the higher the chance I'm eating food from whole ingredients rather than processed ones. I'm more acquainted, for example, with the Alfredo sauce I'm going to make tonight for dinner from scratch than the powdered mix that comes in the Hamburger Helper box. Although many health-conscious people would be appalled at the butter and cream on my pasta, I'm more comfortable it because I know what's in it: butter, cream, and Parmesan. That's it. What's in Hamburger Helper? No idea. Are there chemicals, preservatives, and unpronounceable additives for color and flavor that I'd rather not ingest? Without a doubt. The further I am removed from my food, the less I know about it, and the higher the probability that it contains something undesirable.
The most closely I can become acquainted with my food is by growing it myself. In this way, I can not only know where it comes from, I can control what goes into it- and can make sure it is pesticide- and herbicide-free. In my mind, gardening organically in my backyard is WAY more enjoyable and less expensive than looking for those same products marked Organic in the grocery store.
The next best thing to getting growing my own is actually knowing who did grow my food. By shopping at a farmers markets or sharing produce with friends, I can meet the grower and be assured the food is safe. This weekend, I had a whole new experience with "getting acquainted" with my food- I looked my food in the eye!
Meet the Chickens:
These are meat chickens owned by my friends, just a month and a half old- still "peep"ing instead of clucking. They've had a very happy month-and-a-half though- starting in a warm safe house, then getting the chance to scratch at the ground and eat grass and bugs and just be chicken-y in general. They look pretty happy, no?
The egg chickens just a little ways away are the same age:
Note the serious size difference. There you have it- selective breeding at work! The full-grown egg-laying ladies are a year old and gorgeous, wandering around on their own because they know how to find their way back to the coop at night.
Back to those meat chickens.
I was there on Saturday, "Harvesting Day." I started out on babysitting duty, and ended up on "tear the guts out of the chickens" duty. Awesome, huh? The other assembly (disassembly?) line stations included "kill the chicken" and "pluck the chicken". By the time the bird got to me, it looked much more like what I'd buy in the grocery store, and for that I was grateful.
I'll spare the gory details, but do want to highlight this cool invention, the Homemade Chicken Plucker:
Our friend's dad built the contraption off of plans he found on a blog (can't find the link right now. The drum with the rubber fingers spins around and beats the dead chicken until most all the feathers come off. By all of the guys' accounts who did the chicken processing last year, plucking by hand was the absolute worst part. This device made the whole process go MUCH quicker. Unfortunately, my part of the assembly line was still a very manual, very slimy process.
So, I came face-to-face with my food. Will I think differently about it now? I think I'm just glad to know that the chickens sacrificed for our meals were very happy, very healthy chickens that, as Joe Salatin would say, "only had one bad day" in their short life. I think more when I eat meat, knowing it had to come from somewhere. As my friend said, "Every carnivore should experience this once." McNuggets are too far removed from Real Food for me to remember where they start.
Becoming acquainted with our food matters.