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Free, but not so easy

(article, Kim Carlson)

Freegans are an organized group of people who shun consumerism; when it comes to food, they practice urban foraging (including "dumpster diving"). It sounds radical and, at the same time, oddly sensible, given the enormous amount of wasted food in this country — as much as half of the food we grow here, according to Jonathan Bloom at the blog Wasted Food. (Bloom takes his figures from the work of Timothy Jones, an anthropologist at the University of Arizona who's been researching food waste for years.)

Of course, forsaking consumer culture is only one reason not to buy food; some people simply can't afford to buy food, or don't want to eat the food that's available, so  they grow their own. Two blogs, Jennifer Jeffrey and Tea and Cookies, have recently reflected on what it means to grow and preserve your own food — both in terms of trade-off (you can't very well read a book or attend a class if you've got ripe tomatoes waiting to be canned), and in terms of keeping us closer to the origins of our own food.

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Tending a garden and preserving food is hard work. Like Jennifer and Tea, I grew up in a family where weeding the peas, packaging just-butchered wild game or home-raised meat, and canning or freezing everything from clams to green beans to huckleberry syrup was what we did — I won't say "in order to eat," but I will say "in order to eat well." 

It's not easy diving into dumpsters, either, I imagine. (I haven't tried it — and, OK, I probably couldn't do it.) Shopping in an air-conditioned market — now that's easy.

I like what Jonathan Bloom has to say on his blog because throwing away food — leftovers, moldy bread, a cooked beet that's sat too long waiting for its spot in our salad — bugs me. True, no one is eating moldy bread around here because I won't get rid of it, but when I do toss food in the trash, it feels, somehow, like we could and should do better.

And maybe that's because I know firsthand how much work food represents — not just the growing, but the harvesting, preparing, cooking, and cleaning up. Or maybe it's some frugality that's in my genes. All I know is, I'm grateful that I can do two things: afford food (even already-prepared food if I'm feeling especially taxed by 6 p.m.), and find food (much of it grown by farmers who live near Portland) that meet my standards for feeding my family and myself. 

The blog Sugar Mountain Farm chronicles one family's experience growing and raising much of its own food; this recent post, a riff on the book Hungry Planet, shows what they end up eating, per person, for about $13 a week. It presents another side to the story told in this short Sift item.

h4. Elsewhere on the site

If you haven't read the interview with Isa Chandra Moskowitz, author of Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World, check it out. She's funny and smart, and you don't have to be a vegan to enjoy her take on things.

Also, Deborah Madison has a June birthday, as does her husband and many of her friends. It's no surprise then that birthday cakes are on her mind.

Months ago, when I read Erika's post on Ethicurean called Talking to kids about eating well, I knew I wanted to read more. The result is her essay on gaining confidence as a cook.

And finally, genetically modified food isn't coming; it's here. Mary Butler brings us up to date on the GMOs in our collective diet.

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