The provenance and rearing of our food matters: I don’t need a scientific study – though they are prolific – to tell me vegetables grown in healthy soil will be more nutritious and taste better. Nor do I need a study to tell me that happy healthy animals produce meat and dairy products that have a better balance of Omega 3- 6- 12 fatty acids compared to their factory farmed counterparts. Again, the evidence is widely available should anyone choose to seek it out, but it isn’t necessary.
All that is needed is to taste the product. The flavor of grass fed humanely reared beef is not insipid. Great milk and butter tastes of fresh grass in the summer and hay in the winter, cream is actually cream colored, and butter bright yellow. Egg yolks from organic hens have a darker almost orange appearance, have a much richer taste, and they perform better in baking and omelets. Cheeses made from great milk is deeply complex and does not leach oil at room temperature. As I’ve said often, I do not have a particularly talented pallet, if I can easily detect these differences, anyone can.
We are, generally speaking, selfish creatures. We act in our own best interests, or at least, we act in what we believe is our own best interests in the moment. I am not saying altruism does not exist but it easy to ignore environmental problems, deceases, and the impacts of big agriculture, when there is little we can do in our daily lives to affect or fix them. However, tell me that I won’t be able to purchase – or afford – salad greens in the middle of winter, for example, and you have got my attention! Suddenly, I’m very concerned about the water shortage in the Salinas Valley of California, and the rising costs of siphoning agricultural water from neighboring states to keep the valley producing food at an unsustainable rate. I am suddenly concerned about finding alternative means of getting what I want, which also, not unsubstantially, benefits others.
The more my own food bills increase, the more I am aware of how little difference there is between my family and a family that does not have enough to eat. The more, in turn, I become concerned about global food security, and childhood hunger. The more likely I am to use my limited free time to help feed others, and the more likely I am to attempt to grown my own food in whatever patch of dirt I can make.
When I didn’t cook I saw only the sticker price of a food item. I am not so well off that the sticker price does not matter, but I am more aware – for better or worse – of the real cost of the food in my pantry and on the grocery store shelves. Moreover, I am more aware of its full value, and how amazing it is that I can walk into my local supermarket and pick up a head of lettuce that started its life 2,250 miles away. If I did not cook, I would be less interested in the world around me, and the future of the planet on which, for a brief time, I get to live.
Cooking isn’t just a means of providing sustenance. Food is the organic building blocks of life. It is the tangible connection between us and the dirt beneath our feet: from which we came, and to which we will return.