On Sunday we roasted a Red Ranger chicken, and ate some squash and broccoli and quinoa. The chicken was from a local farmer who raises them in a pasture, so that they get lots of grass with their cracked corn feed. My family enjoyed the Sunday dinner, and we laughed and talked while we ate. Family dinner Sundays are a treat. The chicken was a hit.
While birds are grain foragers, they will also eat greens if they are given access to a pasture, so the pastured birds are higher in vitamins and omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs). They taste better. They are not organic chickens. That doesn’t mean anything except the chickens have been raised in a CAFO coop, an enormous building packed with chickens and smelling terrible as the chickens cover every inch of the floor and eating organic corn. Free-range chickens are the same. “Organic” and “Free-range” are terms controlled by the federal government, so they are untrustworthy.
Pastured chicken is different. It comes from a local producer. You can go visit the farm, and see the chickens wandering about, eating grass and bugs. If you were a chicken, would you want to live crowded into a smelly huge Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) coop? Or would you prefer to live in the sunlight, eating grass and weeds?
Last Saturday, the local Farmers Markets closed for the year. My garden is now put to sleep, except for some Bok Choi and cabbage and a little broccoli that is still pretty feisty. The carrots and potatoes are under a bed of mulch, and I will dig them through the winter as we need them.
It has been a good year. I like buying chickens from the local grower, I like buying grass-fed beef from the family that comes into town for the Saturday Farmers Market. It is good to know who is raising your food. I trust those people far more than I trust government to tell me what to eat.
Between having a garden and buying from local farmers, we keep our food money local. What if everyone did that? What if you bought milk from local farmers? What if you raised some chickens in your back yard, feeding them weeds and kitchen scraps along with their regular feed? What if you formed relationships at the farmers markets? What if you joined a food co-op and got a box of seasonal vegetables every week from a farmer? What if you had a close relationship with your food?
Industrial food has one point: what is cheapest? Artisanal foods are locally produced foods, and they are more expensive. Eggs from pastured chickens are more expensive, and certainly the Red Ranger chickens we buy during the summer are much more expensive than chicken at a supermarket. The spring Cornish cross chickens are all right but I like the summer Red Rangers better.
I spend more money on food. I think I am worth it. Are you?
We have seen recently that people who eat more vegetables are mentally healthier. The study found that seven helpings of fruits and vegetables a day is associated with the highest level of happiness and emotional resiliency. Colorful food is anti-inflammatory. (No, colorful snack foods do not count!) Inflammation damages our bodies, making us age more quickly, and making us feel irritable.
As we slide into fall, our meals shift from chicken and fresh vegetables to a little beef and fall vegetables. The hardy cole crops like my Bok Choi are good for some time yet. There are beets that can be dug, some cabbage that came again after I picked it and made sauerkraut. When the winter is fully here, raking back the mulch exposes the carrots and potatoes.
Traditionally we ate what was seasonably available. Chicken and fish are summer food. You wouldn’t eat beef or pork or lamb in the summer because that is when those creatures are putting on weight, eating all the wonderful greens that the summertime provides. Red meats are fall and winter foods, and best eaten in small portions. Sometimes we enjoy summer meals entirely of vegetables from the garden. Eating less meat seems like a good idea.
Greens are spring foods. With a cold box, we start our lettuce early and enjoy spring salads. Early peas are a wonderful spring treat. My mother used to make peas and early potatoes as an early summer dish.
There is something deeply satisfying about getting in harmony with the seasons. Do we really require asparagus from Chile in the middle of the winter? Do we really have to have salads in the winter that have been trucked across the country from places like McAllen, Texas or the Imperial Valley in California? Food from a supermarket has traveled an average of 1,500 miles. I can raise delicious sprouts in mason jars through the winter as a salad dish, to supplement all the winter squash that are resting patiently in my storage room, waiting to be eaten. The pumpkin soup is calling.
On Saturday one of my sons took his daughter sledding in the mountains above town. They climbed up and slid down all morning. Summer is over; the mountains have a layer of snow already. We live in harmony with the changing seasons. Our foods should shift too. I don’t know if it makes me physically healthier, but I feel a connection this way that nurtures my spirit.