One of my favorite ways to enjoy food more is to change my perspective from being a nutrition “expert” to appreciating the artistic qualities of food. Instead of seeing tomatoes as sources of “fiber, antioxidants and vitamins” I see red luscious orbs packed with vital energy that will nourish me and taste delicious because they grew out of my garden. At my house, the gardens are located in the front yard because there is better sun exposure and these tomatoes were actually planted around the mailbox. Maybe the mailman will need a snack one day! We got rid of the bushes under the windows, dug up the hostas and planted tomatoes, greens, sweet potatoes and onions instead.
I am smitten with using the word “artisanal” to describe the relationship I prefer to have with food. It evokes a sense of pride, quality craftsmanship, and hints at a process that takes invested time to complete. It reminds me that there is an important personal connection to one’s food, as though I put my personal touch on something. Artisanal also implies that there is unique variety. There are no mass produced, identically perfect tomatoes in my garden. I love observing the unique beauty in each fruit, even if these tomatoes in my hand were “supposed to be” much larger. Taking an artisanal approach to gardening lets me appreciate the fruits of my labor no matter what they are.
Sometimes you get totally surprised and grow something giant or discover a hybrid of a couple of vegetables planted next to each other. Whatever the outcome, it’s a result of my own (actually, mostly my husband’s) hard word. Check out my niece holding a gigantic turnip! Harvesting your own food is a joy that persists across generations and can be enjoyed by young and old alike.
Thinking of food as an artisanal experience lets us slow down and be in the moment. It reduces stress. We are present with all of our senses and be part of the whole process from food procurement to the preparation to the social gathering to those last few bites on the plate. It becomes less about getting from hungry to full as fast as possible and more about how we choose to experience life as a whole. Are we willing to take the time to peel and chop some cucumbers for a snack? In reality, this step only take 2 minutes. We have the time!
Summer time is a good opportunity to practice adding a few more steps to our meal preparation process. We are bombarded with messages that we “deserve to treat ourselves” or “shouldn’t need to bother with cooking” or “have the fastest ready made dinner,” none of these options satisfies our deepest hunger. As humans, we actually WANT to feel more satisfaction, have more meaning and purpose in our lives, be proud of our work (in the garden & kitchen) and be part of a natural cycle of growth and sustainability that many generations have already experienced. Gardening and preparing our own food, artisanal eating, satisfies that hunger.
Even if you aren’t sure you can tackle starting a garden, there are many other options that can still give you the experience of artisanal eating. You may start with a container garden or potted herb garden to keep the size and time investment manageable. Another reasonable alternative is to source your food as locally as possible. When was the last time you picked up some summer produce from the country farm stand? There’s nothing like the flavor of fresh and locally grown seasonal food. By the way, it’s a bargain! The last time I picked up turnip greens at the farmer’s market, I walked away with 2 overstuffed grocery bags for $3!
Another way to “go artisan” is to experiment with preserving your garden harvest. This year my bumper crop was cucumbers and I probably made at least 5 kinds of pickles and relishes, and I’m not done yet! I have absolutely no experience canning or preserving foods, so I found a few recipes online, and get advice from friends and family. At first glance it seems like “ain’t nobody got time for that!” but in reality, I put together this small batch of pickles in the hour and a half I had between appointments. It didn’t take up my entire afternoon or mess up my whole kitchen. It’s really do-able, I swear! Just don’t hold me to this time frame when you’re trying to pickle 20 pounds of cukes.
At the end of the day, when I’m putting homemade garlic dill relish on my plate, washing the dirt off of the kale to whip up a kale salad, there is a deep satisfaction in me that “I did this myself.” And not only am I proud of doing the work, but it tastes better. The richness of flavors actually indicates that there are a higher concentration of nutrients in the food. Sorry, you can’t add salt, sugar and fat to food and make this same claim. But it’s true when you taste the rich flavor of a real homegrown tomato, you can be sure it’s way more nourishing than any store bought tomato purchased in the dead of winter, picked green and artificially ripened.
Appreciating the beauty of the harvest, savoring the amazing seasonal flavors, celebrating the fruits of one’s labor, taking time to slow down and enjoy the process from farm to plate….THIS is artisanal eating. And this entire experience is what creates health and happiness. Healthy eating is more than just getting the “right” vitamins or “ideal” diet, folks. It’s a way of living to sustain our entire being.