by BETH ALTENA
Before the Civil War, people either grew their own food or knew the farmer who grew it for them. Now the source of our daily meals is such a mystery children are often clueless about how their dinner came to be. Unfortunately, adults are just as unaware as where our groceries come from.
According to Sue Osgood, editor of Foodforthought magazine, consumers are finding ways to get back to natural foods.
Osgood was the speaker at the Thursday, April 2 meeting of the Rockford Area Historical Society, another great speaker for the club.
She said her magazine has been featuring ways consumers are using to get back to natural foods, grown close by.
After the Civil War, people flocked to cities to live, and sanitation and food safety regulations were in their infancy. Michigan, in 1948, was the first state to mandate that milk be pasteurized before sale.
“Now food is highly industrialized,” Osgood said. With costs of food skyrocketing and incidents of food-born illness in the news constantly, consumers are ready to get closer to their edibles.
One example Osgood described is a concept begun in the 1960s. Smaller farmers, who often have a hard time competing against large producers, allow consumers to purchase stock in the farm. For a price up front, fresh, in-season produce is available.
“This helps the small farmer because he has the money up front when he needs it for planting,” Osgood said. This is good for farmers and consumers and “puts a face” on your food.
Another example is a way around milk pasteurization laws. Those who own cows can do what they want, as long as they don’t sell it. As in the farm example, consumers can make arrangements to buy a share of a cow. As owners, they can legally drink the milk without pasteurization.
“A lot of people believe in unpasteurized milk,” Osgood said. She said before the industrial revolution, it was what people drank. Some believe pasteurization kills healthful enzymes and makes the milk less nutritious.
An increase in organic foods is also part of the same picture. Many people believe organic food exposes consumers to less pesticides and other toxins, is more nutritious, protects you from genetically modified food, is good for soil and water, protects farm workers and uses less fossil fuel.
Osgood said her magazine did a section on Thanksgiving, proving that an entire traditional dinner can be arranged using only Michigan-grown products, even cranberries.
Meats, too have changed to suit production and mass distribution. A local grower of heritage turkeys calls today’s store-sold birds the “Dolly Parton” of turkeys, bred for lots of breast. Today’s meat animals have been altered by breeding to such a degree that they are unable to reproduce naturally, and have to be artificially inseminated.
Osgood also talked about the growth of farm markets and pointed out the popularity of Rockford’s. She stated two examples of farm markets held in the parking lots of medical facilities, an indication she believes, that those in the medical field realize the importance of healthy, local food sources.
Another person went into business for herself as a sustainability consultant. She finds ways for people to use fewer resources and sustainable foods. “She finds ways for people to be responsible within the food community,” Osgood said. The person also goes into businesses and shows them how they too can be greener, using local sources, conserving energy, and helps develop minimal packaging and processing, such as unbleached food products.
Yet another example is an individual, Sheri Rop, who began buying as much food as she could straight from local farmers. The idea was good, but consumed lots of time and gas. Rop decided to make her passion her business and set up shop as The Good Earth Artisan Food.
With an online ordering site, she allows people to place orders for farm-grown products then picks them up in bulk and delivers straight to the door. Visit her website at www.artisanfood.com.
“I think in the future there will be more of this kind of stuff,” said Osgood. “Kid know nothing about where food comes from. People are ready to connect to local growers.” Osgood said the restaurant industry is following suit with many chefs trying to use local foods, too.
“The average food item on an American table has traveled 1,500 miles to get to the table,” Osgood stated. “That is a scary statistic.” Osgood also pointed out a very positive bit of information. It should be easier for Michigan consumers to buy locally as our state offers a larger variety of crops than any other state except California.