Thursday, June 7, 2012

Country Gastronomic Blessings

Instead of counting sheep to fall asleep, I count blessings until my eyelids slam shut.  On nights when sleep doesn’t come readily, my list grows more creative as I run out of obvious items to tally.  One item at the bottom of a long list of life boons is not just thankfulness for food to nourish my family, but for knowing the origins of my meals.

In 1930, 3 out of 10 Americans lived in urban areas.  According to a recently published article, 8 out of 10 Americans now live in urban areas.  Both urban and rural living have positive qualities, but I suspect more rural  than urban residents understand  the origin of their food as it travels from field and pasture to factories, warehouses, semi-trailers, and grocery markets.

As a rural school teacher, I quickly realized students who didn’t live on farms knew someone who did.  Most town kids have grandparents or aunts and uncles who produce grain or beef for the market.  Many spend time helping with harvest or participating in agriculture-related 4-H projects.  I don’t know that I ever had a pupil who didn’t know that hamburger once looked distinctly cow-like before it was ground and packaged for sale.  Western Kansas children certainly know what wheat looks like before it becomes bread--even if they don’t know all the milling steps in between.

On a different note, I have friends teaching in urban schools who share crazy stories about what their students know about how food becomes food.  A friend from a big city shared a story of her student who thought potatoes grew on trees.  Another teacher told about a primary student who explained that you put the carton in front of a cow’s mouth and then raise its tail like a handle so the cow will spit the milk into the carton.  If that is what truly happened, I’d have to quit drinking milk. I can’t imagine how this child would explain hamburger…

Often, these urban students have no concept about meat production.  They think their hamburgers and chicken strips originate at the grocery store.  While kids who help produce meat the family eats suffer heartache at butcher time, they also know the care the animal received and what it ate as it matured.  They aren’t detached from their dinner.

Even though western Kansans often see cattle in pastures, fields of waving grain, and good-size truck gardens, staying involved with food production on some scale is a great reminder that food production isn’t easy or magical. Now is the perfect time of year to dig up a little plot or fill a few patio containers with rich soil and plant two  each of tomatoes and peppers,  some onion bulbs, and a couple of basil plants.  A pizza garden is a great reminder that food we love doesn’t start in a package or can.

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