How Do YOU Swim Upstream?
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I love big pictures, overall goals, and discussing big ideas. I’m an idealist. It’s one of the best characteristics I got from my dad (hi, Dad!).

I also love details, reason, and the sense of accomplishment in getting done what needs to be done. So I can be pragmatic, too. (Thanks for that, Mom!)

One of the most fascinating things about the Food Movement is that it draws these two attributes out of people who are questioning the current state of our food system.

We want change, and for good reasons. We read about it, write about it, talk about it. And then we get busy – backyard chickens, gardens, canning, buying from local producers, cooking.

Lately, through conversations with students, educators, co-workers and my parents, I’m thinking along the lines of real, everyday life. Not everyone can hop over from city-dweller to farmer. Not everyone wants to. I often hear people talk about how difficult it is to work full time, raise a family, AND come home at the end of the day to garden and cook a meal. I respect that. I hear people talk about how they felt overwhelmed and paralyzed after seeing Food, Inc. because there is so much change that needs to happen in the food system. I can understand that.

The fact is, we all eat. And our ideas about food relate to nearly every aspect of our daily living. So we all have a voice in this movement, whether we know it or not.

Joel is a great encourager of having people just start somewhere – just visit a farm, just cook one meal at home each week, just grow a tomato on your apartment balcony. And I have some thoughts on how to incorporate an earth-connected and food-aware mentality into everyday life. But I want to hear from YOU today. Let’s talk about the pragmatic baby steps, on a real-life scale.

And just for the record, I have NO agenda here. This is a shame-free zone. Oh, how our culture has raised us to have so many emotions relating to our food (but that’s another post). I am simply reaching out to you because I know our culture is not set up to live in connection with the land, and I want to hear your perspective on the challenges and victories that come with swimming upstream in such a culture.

Where and how does the food movement come into play in your household?

What small steps have you taken towards opting out of the conventional food system? What small steps would you like to take in the future?

Are there things that deter you from wanting to buy, grow or prepare food with more of a local and clean/GMO-free/beyond organic approach?

At the end of the day, what is it that determines your food decisions?

Feel free to answer one of these, or answer them all. Thanks, everyone!

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About Brie Aronson

Brie Aronson came to Polyface from southern California. During college, she was diagnosed with food allergies and had to begin asking about the source of every single thing she put in her mouth. This led to an interest in all things food and she sought out a way to learn how it can be produced ethically and sustainably. Her desire is to help people shift their focus from counting calories, being intimidated by their kitchens, and being disconnected from the land to one that experiences the life-giving enjoyment of food. Having completed the internship in summer 2010, she now assists with the buying clubs and sales building, leads school tours of the farm, and will be the summer 2012 farm cook.
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30 Responses to How Do YOU Swim Upstream?

  1. Shannon Wood says:

    It is challenging to “swim upstream” in a system where the food that is convenient and affordable is also not good for you. In our household we have a garden, and I am learning to can and pickle produce (just bought a pressure canner!). I live near a farm where I can purchase beef, pork and poultry products, and we have an abundance of tailgate markets in Asheville. It can be difficult to seek out these sources, however, when I’ve just gotten off work, the tailgate markets and farm stores are closed, the organic grocery stores are too far away, crowded, and overly expensive. Sometimes I crave the convenience of the mega-grocery store near my house, and there are days where it and what organic produce it carries have to be sufficient. But in the end, its all about doing AS MUCH AS I CAN everyday to make good choices and support my local food system, and I plan and prepare as much as possible to do this.

    • Brie Aronson says:

      Thanks for chiming in, Shannon. You hit the nail on the head, for me at least – convenience is a huge factor in my decisions. But you are so right, it’s all about doing as much as we can. Good luck with that pressure canner! 🙂

      • Ben says:

        In “Sheer Ecstasy…” Joel mentions the following key components: PRODUCTION, PROCESSING, ACCOUNTING, MARKETING, DISTRIBUTION, CUSTOMER. He analyzes these components from the farmer perspective. I’ll analyze them from my perspective as consumer….

        PRODUCTION: I try to produce what I can with Earthboxes outside my apartment and volunteering at a local market garden (I recommend this to anyone who reads this). I also spend time reading about best production practices (sustainability, chemical free, aesthetic, etc.) to that I can better support those who produce well. I also hunt and fish.

        PROCESSING: For me, this comes down to learning to cook and loving to cook, well. I have become better at taking whatever is available at the farmers market and turning those raw ingredients into meals that I prefer over anything I can get at a restaurant. I try to cook real. good. food.

        ACCOUNTING: This is all about personal finance. I create a monthly budget. As part of that money plan, I make sure to set aside cash for high quality, locally produced food. I tell my money where to go instead of wonder where it went (which, for many would include random purchases at McDonald’s, convenience stores, and other junkholes).

        MARKETING: I don’t buy food (products) advertised on TV. Try it.

        DISTRIBUTION: This is the real tricky part. I’ve got to embrace seasonality, skip a Saturday morning climb to go to the farmers market, drive out to the farmstand, and give up the notion of ‘one-stop’ shopping.

        CUSTOMER: Joel embraces forgiveness farming. I embrace ‘forgiveness consuming.’

  2. Sandy says:

    In the 70’s I started out working for an organic grain farmer. I grew up in the suburbs and at 17 years old it was a real eye opener. The work was amazing and I loved it. High satisfaction at the end of the day looking at 4 or 5 hay wagons stocked full. In the morning it was all stacked in one of the barns, hard work to be sure. The last 40 years I spent gardening, raising kids, working and trying not to take up air without giving something back, it’s a cycle and to me it makes sense; when so much today doesn’t. For Mother’s Day this year I gave myself 10 chickens, my first foray into poultry. (converted the kids old swing set into a coop). I have canned and frozen food forever. This year I hope to try my hand at dehydration. We make our own granola, bread and Greek yogurt as well as garden a half acre. Rain barrels are ready to be put in this week. All my baby steps are slowly getting me there. Stuff I don’t grow I can get at the farmers market, which starts this week. It is time consuming and I have no help. (husband bought a boat and eats twinkies :). I say, get up in the morning and do the best you can……. Everyday. When you crawl into bed at night, dog tired and sleep well it’s been a very good day

    • Brie Aronson says:

      So cool that you got to experience an organic grain farm, Sandy! Thanks for sharing part of your story with us. It’s so encouraging to hear from others that are doing the best they can.

  3. Karen B says:

    There was a sea-change in my thinking about food not long ago. I had been gardening for a few years for the theraputic benefits of being outside, but it took a while for me to come to the realization how “dead” most mega-grocery foodstuffs are. There is no vitality or energy in the boxed and canned stuff they sell. There is very little ~nutrition~ either. Somehow, it suddenly clicked – the more steps food has to take from where it is grown until it makes it to my mouth, the less it nourishes the body and soul. I suppose it’s the same thing as “eat clean” – all I know is that I feel more alive the closer to the source I eat.

  4. Lyndsey says:

    We live in the city & have turned all of the sun-exposed yard into garden & fruit. The shaded out yard currently holds 8 hens for eggs. My husband hunts deer in the fall & we buy happy hogs, beef, & lamb a side at a time from farms we have toured within about 45 miles of our house. We also have a honey source & a maple syrup source. We have eliminated wheat products for health reasons as well as because it just isn’t worth the effort when you are trying to be self- sufficient. That being said, basically the only Store-bought groceries we have is a ten pound bag of jasmin rice we bought at Costco and vacuum sealed into 4 cup packages & coffee. (I would like to add that I have 3 sons, work outside the home 3 days a week, but basically cook & garden like its my job.)

  5. Sofia Grogan says:

    First off, Brie, thanks for writing this! It gives me some relief to know I am not the only one that FEELS like I swim upstream. I have always swam upstream and I always felt it was the right thing to do. Now that I am raising a young family and live over a thousand miles from any of my or my husbands family, I feel alone in my pursuits.
    You are absolutely right, everyone eats. I find it to be essential for me to take the time and energy to meet all of my farmers and drive the drive to pick up my CSA share, and support my dairy farmer, chicken farmer and food club. Although I feel good about all that I do, I feel alone in suburbia, closed off. I can’t relate to others around me – I live apart from my tribe. Just knowing others in my tribe are out there, is what keeps me swimming upstream. 🙂
    I’ve often given thought to how I could make this way of life easier for my whole family. Not one person can do and be everything to their family. I think if we could all invite our family back into our lives and live in proximity or even under the same roof with parents and grandparents, the journey would be less consuming and more fruitful! How I wish I had the wisdom and help of my aunts and grandparents. How I wish I had my own multigenerational tribe! Unfortunately this is not possible, so until I find those who live near me who would like to help one another lighten the load and change the course of the river, I will continue to: stay out of grocery stores as much as possible, cook as many meals at home as I can, patronize and know my local farmers, stay abreast of issues and legislation that pertain to food and health, and seek more knowledge in natural health and healing.
    Thanks for the re-inspiration Brie!

    Sofia

    • Brie Aronson says:

      Sofia, thanks so much for commenting. You bring up an excellent point, and I know many share that isolated feeling in suburbia and feel far from their tribe. Love your “I will continue to:” list. I hope some like-minded folks cross your path very soon!

  6. I am working on cutting out processed foods and cooking from scratch. I’m also working on cutting out fast food. I have to confess that convienence is sometimes the driving factor. But I’m figuring out that I if I don’t overpack my day and plan ahead those situations are alleviated. My pantry size has shrunk with out the need to store a bunch of processed food but my larder has grown by leaps and bounds with home-canned goodies. The only bump in the road is my children. They get frustrated with the answer of cheese, yougart and fruit for snack items. I wish I could bake cookies all day. It’s a process.

  7. Kelly says:

    Well for me, it truly has been a baby-step experience starting about 6 years ago. ( I am only 28, so we started relatively young).

    First, when I was pregnant with our first child, the milk was important, so we changed to organic milk.

    Within the next year, I was buying all our meats from Whole Foods in large quatities and freezing into meal amounts.

    The third year brought our second child and I started buying small amounts of items at the farmers market, while still doing the others mentioned above.

    The fourth year we raised a small pen of chickens for meat (after reading a couple of Joel’s books) and sold a few of them.

    The fifth year, we purchased a side of beef for our meat and raised two flocks of chickens for our family and sold about half.

    Now in the sixth year, we raise all our own chicken, we have purchased our own cow, have a large vegetable garden and purchase everything else from a small store who sells local items (Produce Place, Nashville, TN). I milk our cow and make butter and buttermilk, get eggs from our layers, butcher our chickens and raise a lot of our own produce. And have started a small business selling the excess of our food.

    Things just keep getting better and better, but it would have been impossible to think of myself in this position 6 years ago…but in small stages it is possible!! I most witness to Joel’s chapter in “You Can Farm” which addresses the question “What are you doing right now?” Start some new step towards your end goal today!!

  8. Leilani says:

    I was blessed several years ago when I met my husband (while not even looking). With the husband came ten acres (bonus). My husband is not were I am in the homesteading adventure but he is coming along and lets me putter of the things that make me happy. Sandy, my husband eats twinkles too! In January I bought 6 Buff Orpington chicks and started the garden. We had pecan, peach and pear trees on the property already and I am expanding the orchard with 4 different apples, a satsuma, guava, Jamaican Cherry, thornless black berries, Kiwi, Fig and avocado. We also have 4 different kinds of grapes that were already established. I bought a few rabbits in February , have added more since, and converted a small pole building into a rabbitry. The piglets were added in April and a calf 10 days ago. I stumbled on a great deal on six week old assorted roosters for $1 a piece so I built a chicken tractor for them and we will be harvesting before long :). There are two rabbit tractors, the egg mobile and the boys chicken tractor that get moved everyday. I have a friend with bees that I have gotten honey from for years that is going to set us up with our own hive. So basically I have been scrambling like a mad woman since January to set up a largely self sufficient homestead.

    My husband works a lot of 12 hour shifts so right now this is largely a one woman show. He is showing interest so I have hopes of it becoming a team effort as time goes on. convincing a 51 year old man who has never had an ounce of fat on him that he needs to eat better is an up hill battle but we are getting there.

    Other than jellies I am new to canning but having a ball learning and love the sense of peace that comes from seeing all those full jars on the shelf. I still give in to the temptation of convenience sometimes, I work and go to school as well as care for my father-in-law who lives with us, but most of our food is prepared at home and grown here or bought from local farmers.

  9. Nicole says:

    I started this whole food revolution process a year or two ago. I’m still not sure what opened my eyes but I’m so thankful for whatever it was. I started out small – buying organic fruits, visiting my local farmer’s market occassionally. But the more I read, the more I researched, the more I realized what horrible food choices I had been making for years. Thinking about all the chemicals, hormones and antibiotics I’ve eaten over the years out of pure ignorance still upsets me if I think about it too much. My husband took a little convincing. He’s a fan of the processed snacks, hostess cupcakes, etc. The recent ‘pink slime’ stories finally sent him over to my side of thinking though, and he’s completely on board with my vision of local, whole foods for us and our family. We have 2 gardens in the back yard full of as many vegetables as we can grow. Our local farmer’s market just recently opened for the year so I spend my Saturday mornings there stocking up. We are also lucky to have a local organic farm close by that provides healthy grass-fed beef and free range chickens. I know we’re far from perfect but we are constantly trying to learn more, connect more with our food and the farmers that grow it, and make smarter choices with every bite we take. I’m hoping all of this sinks in with our 6 year old and he won’t have to learn all this as an adult like we have. He’ll understand where our food comes from, what’s healthy and what’s not, and the importance of a connection with the land.

  10. Amy G says:

    Three years ago, we moved out of the suburbs into the country. We got a flock of laying hens and some dairy goats. Before that, I gardened in my suburban backyard and composted our vegetable scraps. I canned our bounty and whatever excess our country-living friends and family gave us. The last two years have been gardenless due to a rough pregnancy that ended in a miscarriage and another rough pregnancy with a baby due during peak canning season. This year, however, we have reclaimed the garden, and I have half my plot filled with the hope of bounty – tomatoes, peppers, chard, beets, peas, corn, green beans, cukes, zukes, radishes, spinach, and lettuce. Still to come is more tomatoes and peppers, winter squash, a few melons, celery, and also second plantings of lettuce, spinach, beets, radishes, and zukes. I’m already planning our fall garden that will have more peas, carrots, turnips, beets, and the like. I love the independence that having garden bounty provides, and I’m looking forward to all the fresh produce. What our garden doesn’t provide, we’ll be supplementing at our local farmer’s market, where you can get some awesome nearly organic produce for a fraction of the cost at stores. We’re supporting people we’ve gotten to know, too.

    Last summer, we switched from eating a healthy American diet to eating a paleo diet. It has changed our life, and it has caused us to feel more in tune with our food and food supply. Fresh, local food has become more important to us. We are saving up for a side of grassfed beef and we may try our hand at raising meat chickens again (first attempt, we didn’t feed them well enough, and they took longer to finish so they were tougher). While financial and time costs can be higher (especially when there’s no farmer’s market or home canned/frozen foods to supplement), this is a commitment worth keeping. It pays off when I see my 5 boys healthy and hearty, my husband losing the weight that he’s carried for nearly all of our marriage, and myself getting stronger and healthier, too.

  11. Francie says:

    It really can be overwhelming & I have found it very helpful to focus on baby steps. My husband & I have made some big changes {raising 33 chickens last summer & 100 at this very moment} as well as small {buying organic, buying local, etc.}. However, I still find it very challenging to align my current lifestyle with my “ideal” lifestyle. I work full-time as a retail manager & buyer, and the pace of the retail industry is pretty relentless. At the end of they day, convenience is what dictates my diet. I try to make healthy decisions, but it takes discipline and, most importantly I think, it takes planning. Planning out meals & grocery trips enables you to prepare healthy options for yourself when it comes time to eat. I struggle to plan adequately and too often find myself turning to less desirable options {ordering a take-out salad rather than make my own, eating cookies for lunch b/c the apple I grabbed on the way out the door wasn’t enough to keep me full, etc.}.

    And so I continue on, researching & reading, educating myself on “clean” living, and bringing myself back to those baby steps as I work on reconciling my current lifestyle with my ideal one.

  12. Bruce says:

    (Brie, your masterful writing is a true delight!)

    Whether the metaphor is “swimming upstream” or “taking baby steps” the point is well-taken: start somewhere and do something!

    I have learned two different ways to swim upstream when I am forced to dine outside the home:

    1) Order an elegant salad –satisfying without the usual “fries, garlic bread” hoopla
    2) When a salad is not feasible or appetizing, I split my over-sized-portions meal in half. Today’s dinner makes a incredible lunch tomorrow and with half the calories (Sorry, Brie!) each time.

    Keep writing, Brie! You have the insight and moral authority!

    “Bruce” (aka “The Daughter Farmer’s Father”)

  13. Mrs H says:

    What a thoughtful post, Brie. My husband and I have a puny, tiny income (first year in the Navy) and are expecting a baby next month. This might appear to be a reason to eat cheap, Walmart food. But au contraire! With a small income, we can’t afford to be sick, on medication, taking drugs and caffeine to survive, risking our bodies with every bite. With a baby on the way, I can’t skimp on whole nutrition, avoiding chemical intake at all cost. So, we buckle down and make it work! We participate in a work-share with our local CSA; I purchase organic produce, locally, in season, at wholesale prices in bulk and can it to see us through the winter. Instead of working outside the home for another man, I invest my time in the home working for my husband at making our lives better from the inside out. We buy everything whole and I make all our breads and other “prepared” foods at home – amazing how much money you can save doing this, instead of buying a “cheap” microwave-ready dinner at the grocery store! I think, with our diminished income, that if we can do it, well darn well just about anybody could do it! You just have to choose where to place those priorities (Going to the movies? Or raw milk? Driving? Or cycling/walking? Watching TV? Or canning 700 pounds of green beans?).

    • Brie Aronson says:

      Yes! Thanks for reminding us that it IS possible to adjust your food and lifestyle even on a limited income. Good luck to you and the little one on the way 🙂

  14. Dawn says:

    700 lbs of green beans – mind boggling! 🙂
    I have followed much the same pattern as many of the posters above, but I might add that exercising some will power was the single most important thing I’ve done over the last 5 or 6 years of changing our food habits. It had to be a concious decision soooo many times in the beginning to say to myself “yes, I’m home late from work, yes the kids are cranky (so am I), yes, it would be great to just order a pizza, but I’m NOT going to”. And then despite being tired, cranky and surrounded by chaos, I’d have to look around and see what I could pull together – wasn’t brilliant nutritionally at first, but I think just changing the thought pattern was the first step. Many times, it would be “breakfast for supper” – eggs and sausage, or pancakes and home pan fries, etc. Eventually I got to the point where I would be doing the weekly grocery shopping and thinking ahead – what am I going to need for Tuesday night (the day when I have a 30 minute window to arrive home, feed folk, and get half of them back out the door). Everyone says it, and it’s so true – just get cooking. If you start out using a lot of helper type foods, like canned spaghetti sauce, don’t beat yourself up – but recognize it as a stepping stone on the way to not needing those kinds of foods. Next time you’re at the store, don’t buy a jar of Catelli, buy a couple cans of canned tomatoes instead. It’ll force you to make sauce. And then next summer, you can hit the farmers market and buy a flat of tomatoes and can them. If you’re budget is tight, focus on buying unprocessed first – worry less about the organic status than the level of processing involved. You have to be able to cook this stuff in a way that your family will eat it, before you can spend money on food that you don’t know what to do with, and might waste as a result. If you are changing established family food habits especially with school age kids or teens, you will meet a lot of resistance. Keep calm and carry on 🙂 Involve them in food prep – expect it, require it, and don’t beat them up if they use the Catelli sauce but went to the effort of preparing a nice salad. Your goal is to get them in the kitchen with their sleeves rolled up. Praise their baby steps, and pat yourself on the back that your kid knows how the stove works, when thousands only know the buttons on the microwave.

  15. Brie Aronson says:

    Just had another thought that a nutritionist shared with me years ago. She advised me to get rid of my microwave, and not just because of the dangers of using one – but also because it would set off a wonderful chain of events. Without having a microwave, you have to plan ahead for your meals. Having to plan ahead for your meals means you will cook more often. Cooking more often means you will start paying attention to ingredients and varieties, and differences in quality. Which will more than likely bring you to a farmer’s market or other source, which will make you start wanting to know how your food is raised…you get the idea!

    Thanks for chiming in and sharing with our community so that we know we are not alone. Keep swimming, everyone! 🙂

  16. Andra says:

    A few years ago we were a family that was all about convenience. We didn’t think about the food we ate or the impact we had on the environment. We didn’t think about anything other than what was happening in our little world. Then, I watched a documentary, that led to another, that led to another, that would ultimately change our lives.
    For us, the question was, Why do we think we need all these conveniences? Why did I, mother of three, need to go to work every day? Did I work so we could live in a bigger house and drive a bigger car? To buy “nice” clothes and make-up, new furniture and fancy coffee? There were so many questions without answers.
    So much has changed in our lives since that time. I am now a stay at home mom, which actually saves us as much money per year as I used to make. I now do many of the things we used to pay someone else to do like child care, lawn care and taxes. We drive older cars that work great and are paid for. We live in a mobile home-turned pretty white house that is paid for. We grow heirloom organic vegetables for ourselves and a few friends. We can and dry our own food from our gardens. We built a huge chicken coop out of free wooden pallets, housing 25 chickens that lay about 2 dozen eggs a day. We raise two bee colonies (about 60,000 bees). Our mini orchard has 6 apple trees, 4 peach trees, 2 plum trees, and 1 pear tree. Our herb and medicinal plants all grow in recycled containers. We built a 20 foot greenhouse out of junk. And we do it all on about 1/4 acre.
    I make money at home selling our heirloom seeds online and also do sewing and embroidery. I save us money by making our own laundry soap, candles, coffee creamer, household cleaners, essential oils, sewing, canning food, drying herbs, making oils & vinegars, jerky, etc. I give back to my community by giving away all extra vegetables plants from our greenhouse (over $300.00 worth so far in 2012), and by always being there to help the newbies out.
    My life is very busy but also very full of happiness. I am here for my kids, ages 14, 12, and 3. I no longer harm the Earth, rather I protect it. I spend the extra money to supply my family with organic milk and cheese but, I don’t buy Nike shoes unless they are at the Goodwill. I realize now that we are much happier and healthier without all the things we used to think we needed. I am a modern day homesteader and I love it!

  17. Charlie Jordan says:

    Brie,
    I’m in the Navy and have been eating the standard American diet for over 40 years. This year I stumbled onto Food Inc. and other agri-documentaries on Netflix. After a pretty radical diet change (two months vegan and now organic/whole anything) I am healthier and fitter than I remember ever being.
    My struggle upstream stems from my lack of choice when deployed on an aircraft carrier. Uncle Sam, you may have noticed, hasn’t really bought into the local, sustainable, healthy food revolution. We’re lucky if our Culinary Specialists try to spice up canned green beans by dumping Italian dressing on them. So, I am basically reduced again to, at best, vegetarian when deployed. I’ll stock up on whole grain cereals and long-storage boxes of organic soy milk, then avoid eating most meat served on board. Although, I can’t resist the occasional fried shrimp or crab legs on the rare occasions they are served. I know it’s tough to feed 3000 souls when 1000s of miles from the neighborhood farm. Processed/frozen/pre-pared food is the norm here. I’m also having to give up my first attempt at a small garden this year, as we’re being re-deployed on very short notice, and there will be nobody at home to tend to it. (I am going to smuggle my wigglers on board with me though. Boy are they going to love all the coffee grounds we produce!)

  18. Elaine says:

    I recently read Omnivore’s Dilemma, and now I’m reading Joel Salatin’s Folks, This Ain’t Normal, and these have completely changed my way of looking at food, the environment, energy, etc. I’m a suburbanite, and have long lived a life driven by convenience and cost-savings, (I have bought organic veggies for years, but I’ve been sort of half-hearted about it- I bought it if I could get a good deal, and otherwise I bought conventional produce). I’m in the midst of a revolution, but beginning small. I don’t think i’m ready to raise chickens yet or bike to work, but I started composting, and reduced alot of my industrial meat purchasing (by going vegetarian, until it’s economically feasible for me to buy grass-fed,pastured meat), started using cloth napkins and rags rather than paper towels and paper napkins, and hoping to really get an organic garden going this year (i’ve tried for years, but I’ve been pretty unsuccessful, bugs or slugs come and eat all the leaves, no fruit grows, or some other animal comes and eats the new shoots, or I get only a few green beans on the entire plant, but I’m really going to try to fix the problems this year).