I’ll never forget the day I learned where hamburgers come from. We were standing on gray gravel at the edge of a fence watching my grandfather work with the cattle. This prompted a line of questioning from a younger me: “Why don’t we milk them?” “If we don’t milk them, what do we do with them?” And then my mom gently explained the connection between those white packages of meat in our freezer and these cows. I was shocked, but it didn’t prevent me from becoming a meat lover, especially when I saw the pains my family took to care for the cattle that we would one day eat. I watched cattle roam the green hills and bathe in sunlight. I watched the haymaking process, as we made the food they would eat all winter. (And it certainly helped that our cows weren’t nearly as beautiful as the black and white dairy cows in picture books!)
Part of cultivating a healthy relationship with food is learning where one’s food comes from. Not only does gardening and farming teach perseverance, patience, and a multitude of life skills, but it also creates an appreciation for food and the environment in which it is produced.
Not everyone has a big plot of land, but almost everyone can participate in the simple act of growing something. When we lived in a third story apartment, I grew basil, chives, and other herbs we used for cooking. I even tried my hand at composting and raising tomatoes. The internet is full of wonderful ideas for gardening in small spaces.
In addition to gardening, we need to witness the cultivation of meat and dairy products, participating if at all possible. I remember hearing the man we bought fresh milk from explain how he cared for his Jersey cow. I remember helping my cousins gather eggs from their chicken coop. I’ve watched as deer and turkeys and fish were skinned and cleaned. The process is essential to know so we can know what parts of the food process are healthy. A good healthy dose of Laura Ingalls Wilder doesn’t hurt, either.
Many experts have claimed that disordered eating is largely a first world problem. Unlike alcoholism or drug abuse, both of which know no bounds of culture or economic status, disordered eating belongs to nations like the United States where people can afford to go on diets, overexercise, and develop deep discontent with their bodies.
There does seem to be a connection between this lack of overall wellness and our lack of knowledge about where our food comes from. Growing plants–even just a few pots–reminds us of the care and time necessary to produce food. We know what products were used on our plants and on the soil. We develop a better appreciation for healthy, fair working conditions.
Like sewing, gardening may be one more link in the chain of events that leads to healthier body image for our girls. And the cost can be minimal: a few potted plants and some well-planned field-trips. The more our eyes are opened to the “how” and “when” and “where” of food, the more we will be able to appreciate the “why”–the nourishment and delight of good, healthy food produced in a fair and thoughtful way.