Small steps towards ‘real food’

Outdoor Living

GARDEN SUPERMAKET Spring is the perfect time to start planting some seeds and collecting a few items for the kitchen from our gardens.

Green Living
McKinley Neal

I spend a lot of time talking about food, which is normal considering I own a food retail business. But the surprising thing about a lot of the conversations is how clear it is that many people feel quite lost about what to eat and how to prepare it, despite the fact that has been the most critical job of all humans for as long as we have existed.
I’ve thought a lot about the reasons for us feeling so unsure about our meals, and it seems that the biggest issue is that the majority of us do not have to interact with food in its natural state, and we grow up without learning to do it.
Most of us don’t regularly forage wild greens or even berries; we grow very little, if anything, from seed to plate; and vast majority of us don’t rear, kill and prepare our own meat or process raw animal milk into butter or cheese. We mostly buy foods that we have entrusted companies, most of them extremely large and located far away, to produce for us, leaving it up to them to determine what they are growing, what methods and inputs they use, how they process, manipulate and flavour them, how they transport the goods to us and how the long they will last on our shelves or in the fridge.
That leaves us to choose from what’s on offer in the local supermarket, which despite the size of modern ones can be remarkably limited. The breathtaking array of fruit and vegetables has been reduced so much that the varieties are not even noted, unless you choose between two types of specially bred commercial apples or potatoes. Otherwise, spinach, cucumbers, courgettes, bananas and others have become predominantly monocultures of one dominant variety.
Then, the focus of the supermarket is to encourage people to buy higher-margin goods, which are the ones that have been processed, branded and marketed. So, instead of making bread, tomato sauce, salad dressing, soup and any number of meals using our own ingredients, we can buy them pre-packed. The convenience factor is a big draw, but we lose a connection with the provenance of the ingredients, and additional components are added to enhance flavour, often making them sweeter, saltier and higher in calories than anything we could prepare at home.
Spring is the perfect time to start to reconnect with our environment, by planting some seeds and collecting a few items from our gardens. Try growing herbs on a sunny windowsill, a few strawberry crowns in pots outside or potatoes or carrots in a small plot outside; they will all taste much better than any we could buy.
As new growth appears in the garden, put on some gloves and cut off the tops of new nettles and some dandelion leaves; either can be cooked into a leek and potato soup or incorporated into pesto with any other greens. Small steps will lead us toward a new experience of preparing and eating real food.

McKinley Neal co-runs PAX Whole Foods & Eco Goods, a minimal-waste shop in Westport offering bulk organic foods, reusable goods, household products, eco-friendly personal care items and gifts.