Many of us (myself included) place self-sufficiency in food at the top of our priority list. Despite our best efforts, we inevitably fall short. Why do fail to accomplish this seemingly simple objective? Our forefathers grew most of their own food, so why can’t we? That is the question this article proposes to answer.
If we are to find an answer, we must first define our problem. Is total self-sufficiency what we really want? It may be, but unfortunately, we can never achieve such a goal. Even our forefathers could never achieve such a thing. They may have performed what appears to be impossible feats today, such as clearing forests with their own backs, but nevertheless they still depended on a wide-spread system of production for many of their needs. They bought their tools, and many of their basic foodstuffs like coffee, sugar and flour. The first colonies in America half-starved the first year, and were dependent on supplies shipped from England. While we have the aid of vastly improved technology since our ancestors, that makes us even more dependent on established industry for our tools and many of our supplies.
While the first problem with complete self-sufficiency is our inability to create most of the simplest tools we may need, the second problem is the fact that we desire to eat like the kings of old as well. If mere sustenance is the only goal, it may be achievable. In the antebellum south, a typical family got along just fine on a diet of hominy corn-bread and fried pork. Even the Indians could grow corn by hand, and pigs are easily kept as well. Is that the diet you would be content to eat, day in and day out? Or do you want fresh vegetables, fresh fruits from around the world, tasty stir-fry with rice, etc?
I think the magnitude of the problem of true self-sufficiency is becoming apparent. If we want to make use of tools beyond those made of stone, and eat something with more variety than corn-bread and salt-pork we must give up on the idea of total self-sufficiency. There is hope though. Is it really self-sufficiency we want? Perhaps not. We like our modern tools. We like our international foods. What don’t we like? Here is my personal list. Does it apply to you?
I don’t want:
- GMO (genetically modified organism) foods
- Unhealthy foods
- Dependency on just a few multi-national corporations who control the food supply
- Risk of food supply disruptions due to either natural events, war or other political events
- The poor food choices offered in the industrial food chain
- Factory raised animal-based foods
You can probably add some of your own items to the list. Take a moment and make your own list of what you want and don’t want for your food supply. Now ask yourself: are these things achievable? In most cases, I think the answer will be yes. Not only are these goals achievable, they may be easier than we at first think.
I am going to call the achievement of these goals “food independence”. When we have food independence, we are not necessarily independent of others, but rather independent of the current industrial food. While we may still depend on it for our more exotic foods such as bananas, tea and coffee, if catastrophic events were to take place, we can live without them. In the meantime, we can enjoy them and still achieve our other goals. Also, by utilizing the techniques described in this article, we can even provide many of these exotic foods with minimal disruptions, regardless of what happens in the world around us.
First Steps to Food Independence
Stop Buying Manufactured Foods
So, having established our goal of food independence, how do we get it? The first step is surprisingly simple. It is not starting a garden, or buying egg-laying hens. The first step is to change what we eat. If we are to be independent of the industrial food industry, we must stop eating their products. The first step is to stop eating manufactured foods, such as breakfast cereal, snacks, soft drinks, mixes, etc. We don’t have to give up these foods entirely, but simply stop buying them, and instead make our own. We ca find small family businesses that make them also. The principle thing is to stop patronizing the manufactured food industry, even the organic ones. Regardless of what brand the product is, they are all made by the same big companies. These same companies often own the organic brands as well.
In most cases, we are better off not consuming any of these foods. Before the second world war they didn’t even exist. Your health will improve for the change, and your wallet won’t mind either. A potato may cost only 50 cents a pound, but if you buy it pre-cut into fries that price might triple. Buy the same potato in a chip bag and you are looking at ten times the cost. How hard is it to buy the potatoes, cut or slice them yourself and then fry them in healthy tallow, lard or coconut oil? Their taste will be unbelievable, they will stop clogging your arteries with rancid vegetable seed oils, you can store large amounts at home for free, and the cost will be negligible.
Amazing, isn’t it? With one simple purchasing change, you can improve your food quality, your health, your finances, and your food security. How much more will these benefits be multiplied as you duplicate this change will other manufactured foods? Follow one simple rule when you make your food purchases; if it has an ingredient label, don’t buy it.
Reduce Purchases at the Grocery Store
The second step to achieve food independence, is to reduce or even stop buying your food from the grocery store. It does not matter if the store is a health food store or a regular grocery store. Instead, start buying as much as you can from your neighbors who are growing foods, and then local farmers and farmer’s markets. For things you can’t obtain locally, shop at produce stands and small, family-run, mail order suppliers. Once you find a source for an item, be sure to patronize that supplier regularly and faithfully. Don’t abandon him just because you can get it cheaper somewhere else or you found a deal. The laborer is worthy of his wages.
The relentless drive for rock-bottom low prices has cost us dearly in our jobs, economy, food quality and health. Saving money when buying a cell phone is one thing; the worst that can happen is a shoddy product you must replace. Trying to cut corners in your food is another thing altogether; ultimately you will pay the price in health problems and an early death. You also put yourself into dependency and bondage to the Agribusiness companies. They are more efficient and their products are cheaper (both in cost and quality), but those things come at a price – a steep price. It is because you don’t want to pay that steep price that you are reading this article. Don’t give into the temptation of low price when it comes to your food.
Coming back to your supplier, in addition to regularly patronizing him, attempt to establish a relationship with him. Help them out when things are tough. By helping them, you are helping yourself. Ignore their plight or drop them for someone cheaper and you just threw away your food security. We all long for community, and yet community is almost non-existent in our modern world. Here is your chance to build some. Community is essential for our security in these troubled times. It is time to start rebuilding it.
Prepare Your Own Food at Home
The third step is a combination of the first two – stop eating out. Instead eat self-prepared food at home. After buying your whole foods from your family farmers and other family businesses, begin cooking your meals yourself. Make a dessert, set an attractive table, have everyone make time to eat together. Try to share a meal together at least once a day. It is a great time to share your daily experiences and talk about current news and problems.
Over ten years ago I remember reading a newspaper article that described a typical young adult’s idea of “home cooking.” Without exception, their idea of a home cooked meal was a pre-packaged dinner that you heat up in the oven. In my youth we called them TV-dinners, and they were anything but a “home cooked meal.” We need to go beyond that. We need to learn to make our own meals from scratch. Using an occasional mix is okay, but learning the art of cooking is much better. Get a Betty Crocker cookbook or Fanny Farmer’s. These cookbooks are classics. You can trust the recipes and their outcomes.
You can do it. Once you get started you will not regret it. Home cooked meals take time, but it is time well spent. It should not be viewed as a merely a means to a goal, but the entire process should be viewed as the goal itself. As Wendell Barry once wrote – “eating is an agricultural act”. Likewise, preparing a meal is also a profound act of living. Don’t diminish your life by skipping this important part.
Once you have performed these three steps, you will have achieved food independence. You will be in control of what you eat instead of someone else. You’ll be free from supply line disruptions and in charge of your own food instead of depending on big Agribusiness. You can achieve all these things without even growing anything yourself. For many people, that is enough. In most cases, you just don’t need to grow your own food in order to provide your own food security and quality.
I am not saying not to grow your own food, only that these three steps should be taken first. Then once you have changed your habits you can tackle the more difficult task of growing your own food. This will be covered in future article.
Meanwhile, what things have you done to curtail your grocery store dependency? What are your trials? Your successes? How fruitful have your attempts at home cooking and getting the family to stay home for a meal been? Share your experiences in the comments below.