July 3, 2014

Food for the Gut & Sustenance for the Soul. ~ Ashleigh Smith

Ashleigh Smith

It is neither an adventure nor a propensity toward risk that motivates me to consume wild foods or to ferment produce in mason jars on my kitchen counter.

It is not a desire to be counter culture or to be hipster cool. The catalyst for this lifestyle is a yearning for connection to the origins of my food.

After living in Germany for four years, I sense something is missing in the process of buying and consuming food in the USA. Richly colored waxed fruits lack texture and smell underneath the concealment of “freshness locking” containers.

The bright lights and pretty packaging in grocery stores trick my brain, creating an illusion of farm freshness, but I feel a void in not knowing the story of my food.

It is rare that a trip to the grocery store inspires me to cook or leaves me eager to sink my teeth into fruit. Shopping here does not awaken my senses or support a dedication to living in presence. I need more than a food pyramid, vitamins and minerals to be enriched and to feel alive.

In Germany, I walked to a small store which offered a limited number of high quality regional items. There was dirt still on the potatoes, feathers attached to eggs and the fruit was sometimes still warm from the sun. If I wanted to spend less, I rode my bike to German Aldi and spent very little on organic, often regional produce. Incredibly, I even found feathers on my eggs at Aldi.

There was a city farmer’s market every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. It was sensational to immerse myself in the colors, the textures, the strong scents and the sounds of farmers hawking their goods.

Along the rural roads that connected towns, it was common to find private homes selling home-distilled schnapps, milk, honey and seasonal fruits—my favorite being white asparagus stands in May. There, shopping for food was a vibrant part of mindful enjoyment of life’s most necessary pleasure, eating.

A short drive transported us from Germany to France. It was not the haute cuisine that attracted us but the connection to the earth and the respect for an agricultural lifestyle that lured us every time.

It’s not necessarily true that French wine is better than all American wine, but it is the fact that I could walk onto a vineyard, sip their wine and learn from the vintner who had dirt under his nails and grape-stained clothing that elevated the experience.

What a joy it was to buy saffron from crocuses that grew between the rows of grapes.

In French markets there was an honesty and transparency about food production. Farmers didn’t need plastic packaging or advertising to demonstrate that their sun-ripened apricots were the sweetest, picked and transported with care so as not to bruise the tender flesh.

From seed to sale producing food was a labor of love and when I prepared my food with those ingredients, I carried the story of the farmer and his land with me.

Now we live in Maryland and something is missing.

The big box stores are too big, too impersonal, too sterile and there are too many options. I want to know that my potatoes came from the ground, not buy waxy clean spuds under plastic. The sterility of the grocery store experience does not awaken my senses evoking memories or emotions formed long ago.

To recall the beauty and relationships of years gone by, I need the gustatory experience of farmer’s markets, gardening and made-from-scratch foods; this I know to be lacking in the American food store. This necessitates that I brew, ferment, grow and forage to integrate my soul into my sustenance. Finding food, picking it and taking care in its preparation enriches life and I feel more connected to the environment when I do.

There is an authenticity to this experience that I search for every day.

Knowing the origins of my food and who grew it elevates the act of eating from the consumption of calories into the nourishment of mind, body and spirit.

If eating is life’s most necessary task, then the process of grocery shopping to table should heighten our sense of aliveness. Each experience should add a vibrancy to our lives not possible with the perfect packaging and unblemished produce from big box stores. Until small markets offering regional produce at reasonable prices prevail, I resolve myself to making my own warm bread, fermenting my own beverages and pickling my own veggies.

This is the way to transcend the chore of food shopping into a gastronomic experience that feeds my gut and my soul.


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Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: Jennifer Pate

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