i am coming to realize that one of the ways in which my trip most profoundly affected me was with my relationship to food. working on organic farms, being intimately involved with the creation of the food i ate, seeing how these farmers had to struggle because they received so little governmental support, really changed the way i view eating. i have always been a fairly healthy eater--i was vegetarian for years (though i am decidedly not anymore and even after all of this consciousness-raising i've decided that ethical omnivorism makes more sense to me than vegetarianism) and i shy away from processed foods as much as possible. but what i am truly interested in now is creating my own food.
i find few things as satisfying as making something myself that i would have otherwise bought. it started out with crafts, specifically clothes, but i am beginning to expand on that. i'm making sun-dried tomatoes, sprouting mung beans, culturing kefir and yogurt. it may seem simple or silly but i take great pleasure in the feeling of connectedness it gives me with my food and the sense of accomplishment that comes with self-sufficiency.
and for the things i can't make myself i would now much rather buy them from a local farmer whose name i know than a big faceless company. or, if the farmer's market turns up dry, a small locally owned business. i think nice was the place where i first realized the joys of market shopping--the daily market in vieux-nice was huge and the array of vendors was astounding. there was literally a stall that sold only salt, at least 30 or 40 different kinds.
next to that was the olive oil man who could advise you on which oil to pair with the wine that you planned to serve with it. and because i worked at one of the farms i realized that these people NEED your business. it is their livelihood and oftentimes they are just barely scraping by. but they are doing something they believe in or carrying on the family livelihood and in the process are providing a necessary public service. because the difference between fennel that i had tried previously from supermarkets and that which i had in nice (picked that morning and driven no more than 10 miles) was astounding.
i was also shocked, throughout europe, to see how many people grow their own produce. as i trundled along the continent by train the vast majority of houses along the tracks had at least a small garden that was bursting with vegetables and fruit trees. even in suburbs just outside of cities i was amazed at how much produce people were able to fit into their backyards. to me gardening has always been something people do as a hobby, something that we did sometimes to give us a few tomatoes and zucchini, but not a viable source of food. i'm beginning to realize that i've been duped--i think that's a very american concept--"i'm going to use my acre of land to grow a lawn that i have to water every day and mow every other week and i'll buy all my produce from wal-mart." that's not to say europeans didn't have lawns--there was just usually at least a 10'x10' patch torn out to make way for edible plants. i am beyond excited that my new apartment in brooklyn has a rooftop terrace where i will be able to create a container garden.
this is not to say that i now only buy locally or eat things i make myself. though i would love to get to that point (a la barbara kingsolver) right now that is simply not feasible. but i'm trying to move in the direction of living a life that is more sustainable, more community-oriented, and far healthier in the long run.