We’ve talked a bit about traditional eating recently and I’d like to expand on the different aspects of what it means. Last week, I gave this rough definition of traditional eating:
“Traditional eating is simply-prepared, whole, nutrient-dense food that our ancestors have been eating for hundreds (thousands?) of years.”
That makes it sound so simple, doesn’t it?! Well, it IS simple, but that doesn’t always mean it’s easy. Our great-grandparents ate locally, seasonally and simply because that was the only avenue available to them. They ate food that was grown locally because cross-country transportation was slow and prohibitively expensive. They ate food seasonally because commercial refrigeration wasn’t widely available and preservation was a new, imperfect practice. And they ate simply because food was expensive, and time and money were too precious to waste on pretentious techniques and presentation. I think we could call those 3 points the pillars or cornerstones of a traditional diet. So let’s take them one point at a time and begin to apply those points to our lives.
Eating locally may be THE most difficult aspect of traditional eating. As we’ve moved from a rural, agrarian society to an urban, technical one, it’s harder and harder to find local foods. I count myself blessed beyond words that we live in a region that can provide most of what we enjoy. Our low-temp pasteurized, non-homogenized milk is delivered from a local microdairy twice a month by the farmer himself. Eggs come from a family down the road. Pastured beef from a family in the next county. Fruits come from my own property or a family-run orchard a short drive away. Veggies come out of my own garden or from my cousin’s farm market in the neighboring village. We produce our own sweeteners in the form of honey and maple syrup, and sorghum is produced just south of the Ohio River. I am so blessed! Of course there are items I can’t find locally; we’ll never grow avocados or citrus here in Central Ohio, but we attempt to eat in a manner in which the bulk of our diet can come from local sources. And I think that’s the hinge upon which traditional eating swings: you have to decide to eat in a manner that you can sustain locally.
Think for a minute about how food evolved culturally. We often make fun of different food cultures: the British boiling everything, the Scottish and their haggis, the French and their escargot, the Irish and their potato-heavy diet, the Germans and their cured/pickled food. But those different food cultures evolved in response to the ingredients available locally and their attempts to prepare and preserve them. Even here within our own nation, we have distinct food cultures. My family were/are Appalachian people, so our diets consisted largely of dried beans, storage crops like potatoes, beets and onions, yard birds and cornbread made from the grains we grew, dried and ground. If you head into the Carolina lowcountry, you find a traditional diet consisting of locally grown rice, seafood and heat-loving vegetables like okra, yams and greens. North, into the colonial states, you find diets heavy in seafood, venison, squash and cold-loving apples. Yes, these are generalizations and even within those regional food cultures, you find microcosms that have been heavily influenced by immigration…but the point is, traditional eating is based on what was available regionally.
So where does that leave us now, with our Super Walmarts full of food grown from across the globe? As I stated earlier, we simply need to attempt to eat in a manner we can sustain locally. In this age, very, very few people will be able to fully walk that out, but we CAN take baby steps. Imperfect progress, my friends, imperfect progress. Let me give you just a few pointers to set your feet moving forward.
- Ask around. Talk to your foodie friends. You’ll be surprised at what’s available when you start talking to people with similar food goals. Til yesterday, I had NO idea there were 3 microdairies within a 20 mile radius…because I had never bothered to ask!
- Shop locally. If you can, shop at farmer’s markets, family-run veggie stands, butcher shops and orchards FIRST. And again, ask. There’s a whole-food underground out there and local farmers can help you get connected.
- Grow what you can. I’m not suggesting that you have to have acres in crops; even a small patio garden can supply lettuce, peppers, onions, eggplants and tomatoes. And they’ll taste so much better than anything you can buy.
- Start small. Start with one locally-produced dish or meal a week. The object of this game isn’t to become overwhelmed and quit out of frustration, but to slowly shift to locally produced food. Let your diet evolve just like our food cultures did.
Anytime we make the decision to change the way we eat, it feels awkward, uncomfortable, and a little daunting. You’re not alone in those feelings, sweet friends! I remember when we first began to make the shift towards more homegrown, local, seasonal meals….I thought I’d die trying to figure out how to feel my children! But here we are, years later and we’ve all survived lol. Our diets aren’t perfect by any means, but we try to follow the 80% rule and allow ourselves grace for the other 20% of the time. So, do the same, allow yourself grace and start the slow process of moving forward. No guilt and no pressure; just slow, steady and forward. Til next time—