The taste of a perfectly ripe, juicy tomato. Some have never experienced it.
Associate professor of anthropology Dr. Susan Andreatta tells of a boy she saw at a farmers’ market. He was used to his supermarket tomatoes, typically picked green and hard so they can be shipped long distances. But today, he’d have a treat. He cautiously took a sample, a supple wedge of a vine-ripe tomato. He placed it in his mouth.
“Oooh, it’s wet!” He spit it out.
With each passing decade, fewer people in our nation grow up on farms. In fact, over the last two years, none of Andreatta’s students were put through school on parents’ farming income.
A connection has been severed – to the earth and its bounty. An entire generation, it seems, has lost the traditional knowledge of growing foods, preserving them and preparing them. Knowledge gained by generation after generation living close to the land is now gone.
But there’s a growing number of individuals who want to reclaim that knowledge. They want to enjoy foods that are real – to get their hands dirty, to get their kitchens messy, to savor meals that come from the earth, not from a drive-through window.
Andreatta’s phone is ringing again. It’s another call from a developer interested in ways to incorporate sustainable, local agriculture into a new community.
She gets calls like this four or five times a week.
Project Greenleaf, an initiative she started in 2001 to help sustain local agriculture by connecting farmers and those who want local foods, has become well-known – so well-known that in 2006 she was asked to work with fishermen in Carteret County on a similar project for seafood.
It’s all about eating local foods, helping local economies, preserving cultures, building community.
How did she get this passion?
Her parents. They always raised a garden at home, in upstate New York.
“As a youngster – a tiny thing – I was always taken to an old farmers’ market in New York.” Her sister now takes a daughter there – three generations eating the same foods, greeting the same farmers, enjoying the same family recipes.
Now, Andreatta and her husband, dean Tim Johnston, have two raised beds at home, with tomatoes, eggplants and much more. And they bought an abandoned farm where they harvest apples. Its blackberries yielded 72 pint jars of blackberry jam last year.
Andreatta picks up a plastic eggplant – one she often uses as a prop in her classes. “Take my eggplant. You can cook it so many ways.” She rattles off the different names for the vegetable, the different ways it’s prepared, the occasions on which they’re eaten – each food is an important element of a culture. She notes the wide range of cultures found in the Piedmont Triad area.
“Agri-culture,” she says, emphasizes the latter part of the word. She uses agriculture as a key ingredient in many of her anthropology classes because, well, “culture is right there.” Growing and enjoying food is a key part of humankind’s life and lifestyles.
There are precious few new farmers, she says. The average age of those who farm keeps rising. It’s now 58. Can we get younger people interested?
There has been an increase in farmers’ markets – a 65 percent rise in the last five years, she says.
Edible landscaping at homes is a growing trend, from tomatoes in pots to large vegetable gardens.
The Slow Food movement, which began in Europe as a means to counter the rising popularity of fast food, has in recent years led more and more Americans to reconsider their diet and their entire approach to food.
And from organic dairy farmers to bakers of traditional breads, there are some with an interest in these traditional arts. But can the younger generations be reached? So much knowledge has been lost. And our culture leads us toward what’s quick and easy.
Leading students to see food in a better light – “That’s the next thing,” she says.
Junking the junk food
Many dieticians adhere strictly to the American Dietary Association (ADA) emphasis on a food pyramid and dietary guidelines.
“I’m a renegade dietician,” Dr. Anne-Marie Scott says. She’d rather be aligned with the “sexy Italian Slow Food movement.”
“We need to be eating whole foods,” the associate professor of nutrition says. Selecting foods based on low fat, low calorie or high protein content? “It’s missing the point.”
We pay perhaps too much attention to nutrients, not enough to ingredients. We look at the packaging to see about vitamins, and we forget to find out what we’re actually eating – and how much it is processed.
Kids are put on diets from age two, she says. Early onset of puberty, not to mention diabetes, are at least partly the result of the additives we’re consuming. “Our bodies haven’t changed. What has changed is the food industry.”
Too much of what we eat is industrially grown and genetically modified. Consider the Paris Hilton tomato, she says – “pretty on the outside, empty on the inside.”
“We eat what’s presented to us – we don’t ask,” comparing it to being pulled up to the trough like livestock.
Ten years ago, she was eating Stouffer’s frozen dinners and snacks like Doritos. “I felt like crap.”
She switched her taste buds over. And her approach to food.
She now makes her own cheeses, jam, ice cream, bread, yogurt. She even pasteurizes her own goat milk. “It’s easy.”
Her yard has too much shade for crops – but it’s just right for her three chickens. She and her young daughter created the Taj Mahal of chicken coops, she says. She spoke before the Greensboro City Council to help make raising chickens legal in the city limits. “The eggs are wonderful,” she says.