Garden, Plant, Cook!

Monday, April 30, 2012

Greening - Closets vs. Pantries

Dear Folks,

Saturday I went into town (love that reference but it fits since I'm in the far east valley and going into Phoenix IS 'going to town') and visited the Urban Farm Nursery and attended the Grand Opening of the new headquarters for the Valley Permaculture Alliance.

If you have ANY interest in gardening in your back yard, community garden or your children's school, girl or boy scout gardening projects, check out the Urban Farm Nursery, the first "edible landscaping" focused plant nursery in the state.

And if your interest lays even further into growing and using more of your own food sources like poultry, gardening and other sustainability subjects, I encourage you to join the Valley Permaculture Alliance.  There you will find an incredible resource for classes, events, and a forum to post and answer questions and otherwise share your ideas and experiences.

So, such a wonderful day of visiting and discussing all about gardening and producing some or all of your own food here in our wonderful valley, got me focusing on a question and a puzzle I have been ruminating on for a week or longer.  Why did we get so far away from gardening in our backyards and develop an "oh well" reliance on manufactured and processed foods?

An acquaintance couches the question in terms of moral decay.

Others ponder such related topics as the post-WWII intent to have a better life, give the children more than the parents and grandparents had during the depression and war, continue to encourage women to work outside the home to 'pay' for that better lifestyle and the introduction of TV dinners to allow some of those new focuses to happen.

Keeping up with the Jones we used to call it.  There was a move in the design and development of "housing developments" which moved entertaining family and friends from the front porch to the back yard.  The weber grill was invented in 1951.  (We love our Weber kettle charcoal grill :-)

I have a slightly different take on this phenomenon -- we shrunk our pantries and expanded our closets -- it became more important to pay attention to, and spend more money on, what we put ON our bodies rather than what we put IN our bodies.

Years ago I toured the Rosson House in downtown Phoenix, built in 1880 and restored to a museum.  Not too long after that tour I also toured the The House of the Future, built in 1980 by SRP in Ahwatukee.  It was an eye opening contrast.

Aside from the anticipated differences - a lot of hand worked wood walls, doors and floors in the Rosson House and a modernistic design - complete with computer controlled environment - in the Ahwatukee home, the differences that absolutely amazed me were the size of the closets in the Rosson house - very small less than 3 feet approximately wide - compared to the modern home -- typically huge by comparison.

AND the size of the pantries - I don't remember the detail of the pantries and kitchen but I do remember that the emphasis was on food not clothing in the Rosson House.

So as a society, in the past 60 years clothing became more important than food.  And, further, as a society, we care more about the quality of the clothing we purchase for our family, than we do about the quality of the food we eat.  What is this really about?

Answer:  Convenience and manufacturers more than willing to give us the "letter" of what we say we want as a society, rather than the "spirit" and real meaning of it and our acceptance of "their" descriptions of what we got.

The "pink slime" story captured a tremendous amount of attention because, in part, consumers felt they had been lied to.

The real issue is most consumers are more than willing for a manufacturer to tell us what they have made, where it was made and what they put in it.  Oh, and also just how wonderful we will feel when we wear it and how much time it will save us when we serve it.

In an effort to keep up with the Jones, consumers for the last 60 years have lost a Grandmother or Grandfather's skepticism of something touted as 'easy' and 'inexpensive'.

I'm going to pick on Wal-Mart -- they have built an international empire on cheap, and built in obsolescence -- you can buy ANYTHING which can be bought elsewhere for way less - you just have to replace the object sooner, maybe a lot sooner.  Or if you purchase food from them - they told the grower HOW to grow the cantaloupe - really!  And it was not for the best nutrition or flavor - it was to achieve the 'perfect' always-consistent-in-size-and-color melon.

Wal-Mart can't be totally blamed for giving the consumer what they 'asked' for -- they simply figured out, from a corporate-bottom-line mentality how to give the consumer the "letter" of the quest, not the "spirit."  So what if you have to buy a garden tool every 2 years instead of every 20, so what if you have to take supplements and have more doctor's visits when purchasing inferior (there I said it!) food.  You can get it at discount prices and feel like YOU made good decisions.

Politicians and lobbyists have the same 'symbiotic' relationship as consumers and retail giants like Wal-Mart.

Politicians tell the public they want to give their voters what they are asking for.  Then lobbyists step up and provide the politicians with all the information the politician need to vote on a bill (you did know most politicians rely on the researching reports of lobbyists to get their 'facts' didn't you?), except the lobbyist only gives the politician the 'letter' or bare facts of the information from the sponsoring organizations view, and not the 'spirit' or all factors.

I read a statement to this effect some time ago.   That because of the incredible amount of data available on any given subject the politicians literally and figuratively rely on the lobbyists to keep them informed.  So what gets left out of those lobbyists reports and research is as telling as what gets in.

Enter the consumer - the real power behind the dollar and what does the consumer do - follow the labeling, pitches, advertisements, buzz words and just how wonderfully "convenient" this or that is going to be, and the modern consumer buys not only the product but the promise.

There used to be an old story about a stupid farmer who wanted to save money on feed for his horse.  He was telling the story to a visitor, how he had come up with the perfect way to do this.  He fed the horse not hay but straw.  The visitor inquired how in the world he got a horse to eat straw and not hay.  "I put green tinted glasses on him," replied the farmer, "so the horse thinks he is eating hay."  The visitor noted the poor health of the horse.  The farmer was not worried, he figured the horse would work for him until it dropped and he would get another cheap horse.

Reality Check:  Because we have become such a busy, busy, busy society with information overload on any given subject, and too many things going on all at once, and a society mentality of never wanting to be 'without' something, we make choices on how we spend, not only our money, but our time.

I would encourage you as a consumer to develop a nice healthy skepticism of anything a BIG whatever / whomever tells you is good for you, cheaper or better.  By this I mean, Really Read Labels, do some research, or find a source of information that YOU consider has unquestioned reliability and ethics of information.  Every one has a political agenda because everyone wants things to be as they want them - whether you think of that as political or not, it really is - it is about influencing others to your way of thinking and doing.

So ask yourself this question:   When was the last time you were "influenced" to put on a pair of green tinted glasses, fed straw, and told it was hay?

GREEN TINTED GLASSES aka advertising, labeling, promises
HAY  aka what you think you are getting
STRAW  aka what you really got

So are you going to settle for straw or hay most of the time?

Finally, I think you should look at your pantry and closets, and consider what is really important to your overall life and where is the best balance in decisions.  If I had a large family living in the same home, I would make this a project, dividing up research topics amongst everyone and see what you all came up with.

Have a great day, be nice to yourselves, and your world,

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady