NPR* has this snazzy little radio show called The Splendid Table, hosted by the grand dame Lynne Rosetto Casper (with a voice like pork cooked with apples, topped by well-buttered biscuits). About a year ago, she started a local food challenge blog, which includes posts from people around the country. I’ve been sporadically following a woman named Autumn, from my home state, West Virginia.
On 9/11, Autumn posted a thoughtful rant about the economic past, present, and future and how that relates to food: growing, eating, preserving, buying, obesity, health, life, the universe, and everything.
In short: WV has economic and health problems, which grew out of a history of subsistence lifestyles that were rendered obsolete and not properly replaced with anything else (other than coal—a place I will not go today). This lead to a loss of skills and host of modern health issues, which can be summarized by saying that obesity is bad and prevalent.
Her solution: Rebuild local economies based on meeting basic needs, like food, locally.
Since I couldn’t leave a response on the web site, I will comment here. Everyone everywhere should garden more, as suited to their climate. While WV has had a loss of business-scaled skills, I believe that home-scale gardening and preserving skills are stronger there than in much of the rest of the country. My anecdotal evidence is based on the prevalence of homemade jerky in my high school, the gifts of venison that occupied our freezer, mushroom-hunting, and the tradition of “putting up.” The nuns literally built a cage for their garden to keep the deer out. That is commitment.
There comes a point in August where West Virginians stop talking about the weather and start talking about the garden and how many gallons of tomatoes they had to pick yesterday, and how the wife was just about sick of putting them up. She’d done 40 quarts yesterday, you know. And then, instead of the secret zucchini descent on the porch, 5 gallon buckets of tomatoes start appearing in your kitchen (who locks the doors?). If you don’t like tomatoes, there are always the numbers of quarts of blackberries picked and frozen. Or how much applesauce the dentist made. Corn. Beans. Sauerkraut. Pickles. Grape juice. And then everyone competes for the prettiest jars at the county festival. (My blue ribbon is from a truffle recipe.)
I had a friend in high school who came over to make pizza once and was shocked that you could buy tomato paste in a little can from the store. Really. We’ve got skills (along with much of rural America). What we need is for American culture to value those skills. Way more than they value i-bankers.
*Unfortunately, WBUR/WGBH do not subscribe, so I have to listen to it online at work. For this reason alone, I will not donate to their fall fundraisers.