for the love of a Portland farmer’s market

A recent entry in one of my favorite blogs stated this: “having a garden really makes you appreciate farmers’ markets.”  Well, ain’t that the truth?!  I’d take it a step further and say, “…especially when you live in the Pacific NW.”  Here, oh yes, where the muted skies create the perfect backdrop for colors as saturated as colors get, and a bounty unyielding.  I see those carts piled high with carrots and cherries and deep blackberries and I want to literally crawl inside each one and take a produce bath.

Each morning when we wake up, we race over to the window for the best view of our cherry tree.  And each day, those cherries blush a slightly brighter shade of reddish pink and seem to teeter ever closer to the edge of their branches, and each day I think, it’s coming soon: the great cherry rain.  I think about that chapter in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle where Barbara Kingsolver describes the dramatics of owning a mature cherry tree — that basically harvest happens in one day.  It’s as though the heart of the tree says, “ready?  set?  go!” and a great downpour of cherries so plentiful and buoyant falls all around you like a fit of summer rain.  My sense is, if you step away from your window on the wrong day (or even during the wrong hours) you might miss it entirely.

Being totally new at this, as you might imagine, I’m both excited and nervous.  I smile in anticipation of standing there, open-armed, receiving sweet fruit as it falls from the skies.  I don’t want to miss it and I don’t want to donate all of the cherries to the birds.  I’d like to try my hand at cherry preserves or give latticing another go.  I’m not sure how to prepare — how much help will I need?  How many buckets?  Will I be able to get them all picked up in time?

All of this wondering and waiting, plus the work of a few small raised beds filled with vegetables and I’m right there with Alicia – there is a fair amount of work in keeping a vegetable garden; it does make one bow even further down to those humble experts at the Saturday market.  I see the weeds make small piles of themselves as I make my way daily around my 6 small patches of cauliflower and my two pepper plants, and the mini-blueberry bushes in the corner of my yard that are starting to show signs of life.  A lot of love is going into cultivating each berry and leaf of each head of lettuce — and I am delighted to do it, truly — I really do like the process.  I’m also mindful of those farmers — those organic farmers — who have thousands of these crops.  Those farmers who will pick up each and every cherry from dozens and dozens of trees — scrambling to beat the birds to it;  who will, with their hands, keep the weeds from 1000s of heads of lettuce and dig up hundreds and hundreds of carrots — to pile, haul, crate, cart, and eventually sell them to me at what seems like pennies when I consider the effort involved.  The sweat and sore backs, the consciousness and timing, and mostly the love — that’s what gets me, when I think about it.  I’ve been thinking about it a lot.

I see my little rows of beets there, behaving as they should be, and I see the radish tops starting to look like themselves, and I know this patch of earth I’ve cultivated  – as much as I love it — will still only feed us a small portion of what we need.  We’ll rely on those farmers — their planning and commitment and toil — much more than we’ll rely on ourselves, at least this year — as that’s what we’ve made space for.  And I feel so grateful to know the work of it a little better, and so awed at the bigness of how much we are cared for by others.


Curing Yourself of an Incurable Disease, Part 7

you are what you eat

you are what you eat

Unorthodox Idea #7

Realize You Are What You Eat.

This idea is not unorthodox at all.  It goes without saying, right?  Still, when you are on the miracle mile towards self-healing, it is important to remind yourself that each and every morsel you put in your mouth is an opportunity to make a contribution towards health.

Food choices are some of the easiest places to look and make changes — even small ones — towards what we want for our bodies and ourselves.  The logic is right there in choice, if you think about it — what you put into your body is what you’ll get out of it.  For example, do we want our bodies to look and behave like a bag of Cheetos or like organic tomatoes? In other words, do we want our systems to be made up of processing dyes, empty calories, and chemical preservatives… or do we want them to be natural, alive, and full of energy?

death spray

There is a movie that came out a few years ago called Our Daily Bread that shows — with striking and objective imagery like the photo above — where, exactly, our food comes from.  There is one particular scene that stays with me.  We see a middle-aged man arrive at work and go directly to the locker room to dress for the day’s duties.  At this point, we don’t know what those duties are.  We watch him methodically don a kind of hasmat suit, complete with a face mask, gloves, and special footwear.  He is totally sealed in; not an inch of his body exposed.  Seeing the extent to which he is protecting himself, we might assume this man was about to clean up a toxic spill, perform live surgery on a poisonous snake, or enter a burning building.   But no, we quickly learn he is merely treating our food.  We see him enter a large greenhouse, and with a spraying hose, distribute chemicals on a huge crop of growing peppers.  This man’s head-to-toe protection suit keeps him a distance away from the hazardous chemicals he is spraying on our food. In the very next scene, he sits down to eat his lunch.

As I said yesterday in regards to how we speak to the delicate healing systems at work inside us, we can’t engage in warfare — at any level of consumption — and expect to balance our own systems.  Peace just isn’t achieved through violence — we know that — so let’s stop supporting food sources and systems that promote it.

A few years after I was diagnosed with Lupus, and I was still juggling medication dosages and different advice from different doctors I had a realization: I am the ONLY person who can truly take care of this body.  The same is true for you. If self-healing is your goal, start investing in yourself by choosing life-giving sources of daily sustenance.

Here are a few places to begin:

1. Get the facts. Put Our Daily Bread or the movie Food, Inc on your Netflix queue and learn about where your food comes from.

2. See that what’s best for the planet is also best for us. Get some education and a great story with one of these enjoyable reads: Animal, Vegetable, MiracleThe 100 Mile Diet, or Omnivore’s Dilemma

3. Take ownership. Shop at your local farmer’s market and/or join a CSA for the freshest, organic ingredients.

4. Stop drinking out of plastic bottles! Buy a water filter and save money while you are saving your own life.

5. Cut out the unnecessary drugs. All the chemical preservatives in processed and frozen foods go directly into our bloodstream. When we are already taking prescription medications, that can add up to a large amount of chemicals having their way with our internal systems.  Trim the fat — start cooking your own simple meals.  That way you can be in charge of using fresh natural ingredients, and start filling your body with live, active nutrients it needs to bolster it’s own healing. Cooking can be easy and simple.  If you are new at it, start with Mark Bittman’s fabulous How to Cook Everything. Take it from me, that book can turn just about anyone into a family chef.

6. Start to see your health as a life-long journey. When you spend a little extra money and effort to procure organic meats, dairy, and produce from small farms you’ll get it all back and then some in so many other ways.  A few extra dollars is a small price to pay for a healthier body; cleaner, safer water sources; a more beautiful and functional environment to live in; and a sense that you are contributing to a small-business fair economy, among many other benefits.

7. Put love in your food. Before you eat anything, remember you are feeding the miracle-making temple that is your body.  Take a moment to acknowledge the true meaning of nourishment when you are cooking and preparing meals, and another moment just before you eat to let your body know you are taking care of her. Go ahead and envision your daily intake working wonders on you.  It is.

I’ll see you tomorrow for Unorthodox Idea #8


Food: The Love Factor

The Official Book of the Month, my friends, is Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver.  It’s slaying me, as my friend Abby would say.  (If I read half as much as Abby, I’d have three honorary doctorates right now, but that’s another blogpost).   I’ll allow you two tries — that’s what it took for me.  The 1st time I picked it up, it seemed altogether too celebratory about a topic that is actually an international health, food, and farming crisis.  The fact that it doesn’t take the kind of tone we humans reserve for crises, had me a bit skeptical.  Where were all the scary statistics?  The fear-based arguments?  Where was the anger?  The blaming?  Don’t they want me to feel like an idiot for eating what I’ve been eating my whole life?  9 months ago, I put this book down after 15 pages…and then along came the intelligent voters of my book club, and alas, here I am reading and absolutely adoring it.  In what context is timing (and, perhaps, mandate) not everything?


delayed gratification

So, request it at your library.  Grab a copy of it used.  Or, borrow mine when I’m done.  I think it’s even out in paperback now.  Just promise me you’ll read it this summer, because, let’s face it — summer is when the bounty is highest.

I’m not going to make this blogpost a book report, so go ahead and keep reading.  In fact, I’m not going to attempt to sum up the beautiful and most compelling argument this book makes about what to eat and when.  Barbara Kingsolver, even on a bad day, could persuade me to consume copious amounts of dog vomit, and convince me it was tasty, with her lovely turn of phrase.  You’re going to read the book this summer anyway — you already promised — so I don’t need to restate what’s already been said so well.

This is what I do need to say:  Food!  The Love Factor. All this talk about food — what’s in it? what’s not?  where’d it come from? who touched it? where did it spend its adolescence? how far did it travel before I bought it? how many precious fossil fuels were used? who’s selling it? who’s reaping the major reward here?  gets me, truly it does.  The who, what, when, where, and why of food production has dramatically altered the way I shop and eat.  If I could talk about food politics as beautifully as our gal, Babs Kingsolver, I’d get on my soapbox too.

Barbara is held in high esteem

Barbara is held in high esteem

And at the same time, there’s a central point I want to drive homeMake fresh and healthy food at home, from scratch, because that way you can put love in it. You read me right — love.  I’m talking about an ingredient that can’t be measured — whose impact can never be made statistical.  Love.  We need love in our food.  Why?  Because, we are what we eat, my friends.  Foodlove heals, fills, and nourishes in a way empty, processed, calories never can and never will. This is one of life’s tastiest mysteries.

is there love in there?

is there love in there?

What I’m really talking about is an old thing I’ll call “The Grandma Effect.”  Why does the food Grandma makes taste so good?  Why is it so healing?   Because there is actually love in it.  Cups and pints of it.  Now, I don’t mean to be cryptic or cute.  I realize I’m stating an obvious thing — and yet, we get away from it.  We — so many of us — fill our lives with Costco frozen appetizers and Krispy Kreme platters and call it a party.  In the meanwhile, we are starving for foodlove.

3 ingredients

3 ingredients

I want to break it down this way: There are two kinds of love found in food:
1. Active Love. Active Love is simply — just doing it.  It means I care enough about you to go to some effort.    This is the one Grandma may not even realize she’s doing because she doesn’t know it any other way.  This is the Love that implies we know and understand where our food comes from.  We respect it, and want to use it well — do it right.  This is the Love that means we make the time because someone is coming over to our home to share a meal.  We get our hands wet; dirty up some dishes; start at the beginning.  The Active Love involved in making something from scratch sends this message: “Your presence here is important to me.  I want to take care of you.  I made this with my own two hands.” Simple as that, whether you are making a 3-ingredient fruit salad or a 3-day, 3-layer cake.

making dough

active love

Barbara Kingsolver takes it many steps further, and with good reason.  I don’t want to put words in her mouth, but the love theme runs rampant in this book!  The farmers love their crops and their customers and the land enough to treat them all right.  The vegetables and animals love their lives.  The cooks and gardeners love the satisfaction that only comes from hard work and a sense of ownership.  And, of course, the eaters love the results.  Wholesome.  Homegrown.  Homemade.  Garden.  Farmer. Harvesting.  From Scratch.  Don’t those words alone make you want to roll out some dough?

The Love Quotient runs high in the Kingsolver kitchen because Barbara and her family take the concept of eating locally to a whole new (actually, very old) level.  They befriend their local farmers, harvest their own chickens, can, pickle, make cheese, and mostly grow their own.  They truly eat with the seasons — waiting all year for those 6 weeks when their asparagus plants sprout, and then eat asparagus like they’ll never eat it again…and they won’t, for about 46 weeks.

communal cooking

communal cooking

The philosophy is this: by the time it’s no longer “in season” you are sick of eating it anyway, and a year later, you can’t wait to bite into it again.  Delayed satisfaction.  Quality and Simplicity.  Hard Work. Well, wrap an American Flag around me — aren’t those the kind of values our country was founded on?  Why does this make the love quotient higher?  Because it brings the earth into the equation. It sings the praises of nature — the way it provides for us (with a little canning and hoarding through the winter thrown in) which, inevitably imbues our lives with a sense of abundance and perfect order.  Eating locally means taking care of everyone — that’s love.

intentional love

intentional love

2.  Intentional Love. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle doesn’t cover this kind of love, hence my need to write this blogpost.  Once you have started making something from scratch (Step 1) Intentional Love means actually putting love into the dish (Step 2).  Mindfully put it there, as you are stirring, chopping, or frying.  Love it.  Think about who will eat it.  Put your own unique healing powers into the soup or the souffle by simply taking a moment to want them there.  Infuse the food with your own intentions.  (This is the Grandma Effect, Part II, I assure you.)

"There's so much love in the room, I can hardly stand it!"

"There's so much love in the room, I can hardly stand it!"

Alas, my friends, the message here is simple.  It doesn’t matter what you are making — just make it from scratch.  Stay home.  Have people over.  Feed them.  Nourish them.  Go to a bit of trouble for them. Love them. Put your whole heart into it.  I promise, it will taste amazing.  Is there absolutely anything in the world we need more, as human beings, than to feed each other?