Style vs. Substance: How we define our food and the power of Positivity

We’ve all been there:

tired, hungry, and in the grocery store (or the rummaging in the cupboard) for something to eat. But we’re surrounded by things we want to make sure we avoid! Chemicals. Corporations. GMOs. Animal cruelty. It’s scary out there. Sure, there’s some labels to help us decide what to avoid, but who and what we can even trust? It gets stressful. You just want to eat, but the weight of the world is upon you.

Small farms are addressing the public’s (justified) concern by positioning themselves as XYZ-free, or NOT XYZ. I sometimes catch myself doing the same with our farm. But often, I feel this approach sells my ultimate goal a little short.

Do I really want to be defined by something I am not, rather than the thing that I am? Do I really want to let the industrial system set the tone and control the conversation points? What sorts of things are we all missing out on by comparing foods based on such narrow parameters, rather than expanding our understanding of food and natural systems as whole?

When I observe the behavior of my livestock, my dogs, I see a very clear principle: they are much more likely to do something they are excited and feel good about than something that causes them pain or fear. Are we humans really so different? Can we be kinder to ourselves and experience less stress by thinking about our food in positive terms?

I’ve been brainstorming some ways to reframe how I see my food not by what it isn’t, but by what it is! And in the spirit of positivity, I wanted to share with you a few thoughts that help me feel good about what I’m going to eat when my stomach gets rumbling at dinner time.

My Food is

… Happy!

Compare these two statements:

  1. My life is not horrible.
  2. My life is filled with Joy.

It’s one thing to claim that livestock are ‘not abused’. That’s a bare minimum, we hope. But when I see our Katahdin lambs leaping feet into the air as they frolic about at sunset in the pasture, when I see our Muscovy ducks spread out their wings and flap them against the water in all their majestic glory, or when I see the rabbits snuggle up against their pals at naptime — I see a being delighting in the full expression of itself, I see joy.

Breeds of livestock that are capable of living full, healthy lives outdoors that allow them to move and play and have relationships with each other are important to me. I believe the positive energy in their lives can give a positive energy to my life too.

Most days, I could probably learn a thing or two from our ducks about how to relax and enjoy a late-night pool party!

… Nutritious!

Sure, I want to avoid eating GMOs. But here’s what will really fuels me: meat with a proper balance of amino acids from animals with a regular intake of wild, nutrient-dense bugs, plants, and seeds. It’s not necessarily the absence of soy that makes our chicken feed great: it’s the presence of lots of omega-3s in the wild-caught fish and camelina seed meal. It’s not the complete absence of grain that makes a grass-fed lamb quality eating — it’s that their grass-only diet is high in essential micro-nutrients, made of fibers their system is specially designed to digest, and when they’re out in the pasture, it’s biologically active too!

I love our heirlooms — not just because they are non-conventional, but because they are positive sources of nutrition. Did you know that those little, feisty French Grey shallots Blue Moon Stead grows have, ounce per ounce, six times the phytonutrients of the common onion and even twice the quercetin of other more commonly grown varieties of shallots?

And that’s just the things we know about! There is so much going on in our environment that we humans are not even aware of, so many little happenings and organisms and exchanges taking place that fill our foods with the building blocks of life. I believe good health is based not just on the absence of some things but also the presence of others. I highly recommend books by Jo Robinson of for further reading!

… an Agent of Change!

Using Holistic Management to inform how we graze our animals is about building our soil, increasing the amount of organic matter and moisture so that the same piece of land can support greater growth and diversity of life in the long-term.

Sure, nitrogen can be toxic in large quantities — but nitrogen is also a very powerful nutrient. When you see a pasture or forest where manure is applied by the animals themselves, in correct amounts that can be absorbed by the plants, you can see incredible life spring forth!

Livestock grazed under Holistic Management can be used to re-vegetate and restore barren lands in arid climates — we’re talking actual reversal of desert into lush teeming grassland with no other inputs than human labor and the presence of ruminants (cows, sheep, goats, etc). Personally, I think that’s amazing! You can read more about this at the Savory Institute website — I’m always learning more and trying better to apply these concepts here at our farm.

… Flavorful!

Eating isn’t just an exercise for the mind or a goal to check off the list, it should be fun and tasty!

Here’s what I enjoy: chicken that tastes rich and chickeny, from the drumsticks all the way down to the tail. Slow-roasted rabbit that falls off the bone and melts in your mouth! Deviled eggs with rich yellow yolks and homemade liver pie that will knock your socks off. All that nutrition I talked about doesn’t exist in some parallel universe, it can be directly communicated to the body through the taste buds and the depth of flavor in your food.

Few things is life are as satisfying as sharing a delicious meal with people I cherish!

In Summary,

It can be easy to allow our feelings and decisions about food to be driven by fear, but that we have a lot to gain from also engaging with the things about our food that we love.

I don’t mean to dismiss the concerns related to industrial agriculture out of hand, they are obviously very important to me, and I think we as a culture are beginning to think and talk about them more prominently every day. I will continue to do so!

At the same time, remembering that there are also things that we can accomplish and allowing ourselves to enjoy the journey can help give us the strength to keep going forward and do better along the way.

I think there is so much in the new food movement to be happy about! Great people, great ideas, great things happening in our community in the Gorge. I hope to help create more people with smiles on their faces and nourishing food in their bellies as we continue to work for the changes we want to see happen across the world.

Are you excited for dinner yet?

wild thoughts — a young farmer’s becoming

I am four years old. I have a small, yellow director’s chair dubbed “the scrunchy chair”. Every time I sit in it, I wrinkle my top lip into a scrunched-up grin, teeth bared. The chair makes me happy, the laughter of my family who watches me makes me happy, reveling in my own absurdity.

I am eight years old. I have a small bald spot on the top of my head, and missing parts of my eyebrows. My mother tells me I am stressed and anxious, pulling out my own hair, but what I feel is nothing — a deep sense of vacancy. I want nothing more than to disappear, to not be noticed. I am aware that others see me as strange, though I don’t feel strange to myself. I am aware that I am sometimes laughed at or ridiculed, though I don’t always know what I have done to deserve it. I wonder if I will ever understand other people, or if they will ever understand me.

I am twelve years old, watching the metamorphosis of a monarch through the glass where I’ve kept it as a science project. I wonder at the process, not just any animal’s growth, but complete melting of the caterpillar into a primordial goo that re-arranges itself down to its very atoms, reborn in time with wings. I start making my own kites, sometimes several in a day, decorated with fantastical creatures; dragons, dinosaurs, pokemon. I like watching them soar as high as I can make them go, sometimes imagining that I too could be something so strong and beautiful, lifted away above the oak trees on the brisk midwestern wind — but my feet never leave the ground.

I am twenty years old. Thunder rolls in the distance, skies darken, but my spirits are lifted. I put on my swimsuit, and step out onto the grass in bare feet. First a few drops, a crack of lightning, and then a deluge. I am soaked, head to toe, in between the toes. I run over the lawn, hands outstretched, face upward into the storm. Water runs in rivulets over my skin — over, but never into, I think. No raincoat or galoshes are as impenetrable as my skin. The water is warm, the air is warm, and I have no need for protection; I can dance all day in the rain and yet I will never get wet on the inside. I feel, perhaps for the first time, that there’s somewhere I belong, something that I was created perfectly for.

I am twenty-five years old, hunched over in the field. The smack of sweet red tomato is on my lips, mixed with the salt of sweat from my labor as I pick them from the vine, bucket after bucket full. My co-workers are chatting as they pick, but I am not. I am still a little strange, still somehow a little foreign to them — but I no longer wish to disappear. I am defiantly visible, existent in my natural element. I look up beyond the brim of my sun hat, taking in the clear blue sky and the birds of prey that circle overhead. Someone laughs, pointing out that my face is entirely neon green — a mixture of my sunscreen with the sticky green resin that comes from the stems of the tomato plants. I laugh with them, reveling in my own absurdity. I am green like the earth that created me, strong and beautiful.