Friday, July 17, 2009

Pickled, Potted and Canned by Sue Shephard

Pickled, Potted, and Canned: How the Art and Science of Food Preserving Changed the WorldThis book kicked off my current obsession with preserving foods -- I think it's such a fascinating part of all the food-related issues I'm interested in. Plus, where else can you read about Attila the Hun's "gallop-cured" meat -- preserved by the up-and-down motion of the rider, plus the salt from the horse's sweat. Yum.

I've been reading all I can about the alternative models of agriculture and food business that have arisen as if in opposition of our current dominant industrial system: all kinds of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) structures, farmer distribution coops, artisanal & local cheese or bread or pickle operations, community food coops, canning coops, community kitchens.

Many of these businesses operate by adding "value" to food by cooking or packaging, and a lot of this "value" is in the preservation of food for consumption by the public.

With all the media and hype about local, small-scale food production, and my own new-found and deepening interest in sustainable agriculture and food production, it's also wonderful to get a perspective on the history of food as we know it.

I knew, but I didn't really realize how very new our concept of food is. The idea of eating fresh food, whenever, wherever we want is so foreign within our cultural history, and even still in most places in the world and yet many folks in the Western world would be offended if someone told us it might be more healthy and more sustainable and more "normal" to eat a different way.

On my new favorite podcast, Deconstructing Dinner, they recently aired an episode documenting the reactions and thoughts of members of a newly created CSA at the end of its first season. Here's an apt thought from one member:
"The idea that the food dictates the menu, I think would be a helpful shift for all communities to begin to make. Given the amount of energy that is spent to bring food from afar because we want our menu to dictate what we're going to buy. It would be a paradigm shift to say, okay, we've got some cabbage now and we've got some kale and we've got broccoli and okay, what are we going to do with that. [...] It would be nice to see larger communities, larger cities make that shift, not only in food, but in everything we consume."
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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