Monday, August 31, 2009

What Does "Real" Mean, Anyway?

So. I'm feeling silly and self-indulgent today. I had a recent conversation with someone who pretty well lambasted me for my "foodie" tendencies. She pointed out, correctly I might add, that waxing poetic about gorgeous vegetables and pristine local farms and perfect olive oils is a luxury reserved for people who have both the time and the money to think lovingly about their food.

I know.

If I had six children instead of two, and if I lived in the rural midwest instead of suburban Boston, I might not be able to feel good about feeding my children lovely organic macaroni and cheese without artificial colors or disturbing additives. I would be thinking instead about how best to afford a meal for eight people, and store brand mac n cheese for 89 cents a box would win over the purple bunny box that costs twice as much. If I had to work full time and worry about a long commute and juggling child care, I wouldn't have time to stop at three different stores or farm stands or little markets to put together the perfect assemblage of fresh and nutritious produce.

I don't take this lightly. I recognize that I am fortunate to be able to find really good food for my family, and to spend a lot of time thinking about it and preparing it. It worries me deeply that there are millions of people in the United States who can't feed their kids at all, let alone feed them well (studies I've read in the past year estimate that more than 35 million Americans live in households that are "food insecure"). I have friends and relatives who live in places where lots of people are overweight, or really sick, in large part because their food choices are limited to heavily processed foods with little nutritional value and meats and vegetables produced under pretty grim, unsanitary conditions. It's disturbing, and ridiculous, and very sad.

And here I sit, faced with a kitchen full of gorgeous heirloom tomatoes and European butter and humanely raised, grass-fed beef, all of which is quite well and good, but at the moment seems overindulgent. Perhaps I should take half the money we spend on food and donate it to an organization dedicated to fighting hunger. Perhaps I should take half the time I spend cooking and thinking about food and writing about food and use it to DO something to help bring decent food to people who need it. Perhaps I should work a little harder on learning about the Child Nutrition Act, which is up for renewal in Congress this month, instead of worrying so much whether my kids' snacks are lovely and plentiful.

All this soul searching appears to be fortuitously timed. September, as it turns out, is Hunger Action Month in the U.S., and while feeling guilty and browsing around the web this morning I came across this calendar on the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts site. It's titled "30 Ways in 30 Days," and it suggests daily tasks directed towards fighting hunger. I'm going to sit down with my kids this afternoon and look at it and make some plans.

The title of my blog seems particularly ironic in light of all this. I realize that perhaps I haven't been writing about "real" food or the "real" world, so much. I've been writing about beautiful food that makes me happy, and about my appreciation for the art of cooking and fine food, which has its place in the world and its own value. But it seems disingenuous to call all that "real" while so many children haven't eaten breakfast this morning.

Deep breath. Guilt seems indulgent, too, without action. So I'll print the 30 ways calendar and plan a family meeting and see if we can't turn this information into some sort of back-to-school project. I encourage you to think about hunger, too, and try to do something.


  1. Thanks for this, Beth. Always important to remember. We live near the Greater Northern Illinois Food Depository warehouse. A few years ago at the end of our growing season, we brought 30+ lbs of tomatoes and zucchini from our garden, through a program called "plant a row for the hungry." I haven't done that the last few years (weird yields, this year the weather's so kooky we don't even have ripe tomatoes yet) but this is an important reminder that I need to do this again. They also offer tours for school groups and children. It's important. It's worth talking about. Good luck in your family meeting!

  2. I find it hard to have fresh veggy and fruits all year round. We have only 2 months in a year of fresh farm veggy and fruits. The rest of the year is imported from the U.S. and other country. They arrive here, frozen, not ripped and full of pesticide. And then they tell us to eat the skin cause it's full of vitamines. Well, I don't eat the skin and as for the freshness, well let just say, I don't eat the fruits that are out of season, which leaves me with very little choice. I buy the frozen and hope for the best, like mango, blueberry and I mix it with rice beverage in a mixer. But at least we have food, not like other places where there are none. I am grateful for what we have.