Thursday, August 23, 2018

Two Roads to Good Food

A few years ago, I became interested in agriculture. When the family farm became my responsibility, I knew there was a lot to learn. I began to talk to people about farming. I had county extension agents tour the farm with me. I asked friends about farming methods. I began to read. I visited other farms.

The more I learned, the more I knew I needed to learn. A friend introduced me to Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm in Swoope, Va. I have read several of his books and toured his farm twice. Gardener friends have recommended eye-opening books like The Omnivore's Dilemma, by Michael Pollan; Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, by Barbara Kingsolver; The Unsettling of America, by Wendell Berry. I watched a Netflix documentary called, The Magic Pill, which shows the health problems associated with the typical American diet. I became a regular at local farmers' markets.

I only wanted to make the Garrett Family Farm a profitable enterprise, no matter how small the profit. A debt-free farm ought to be able to generate a little something. What I got was a look inside the American food supply and food culture, the abuses of agribusiness, the soil destruction of conventional farming. I realized that I really did not know where my food came from. I couldn't even tell on which continent it was produced. Like most people, I thought that food came from grocery stores, and that it should certainly be wrapped in plastic. The idea of knowing the farmer who grew my food never crossed my mind. I learned the huge benefits of eating local food, food that is fresh, food without preservatives, food not tainted with pesticides or herbicides.

This quest to make a farm profitable led me to a whole new philosophy of eating. I realized that I was eating without thinking. That's what everybody does. Now I see the vast benefits of eating good, healthy, local food. It helps my body, helps local farms, helps the local economy, reduces transportation costs, restores the soil, reduces erosion. Most of these I never considered with a bite of food.


Meanwhile my wife was on the road to fitness. Her trainer gives clients a butt-kicking workout three or more times per week. Last summer, the trainer also suggested a new kind of diet, the Ketogenic diet. This diet reshapes the metabolism so that it will burn fat. A key element of this diet is clean eating. All the processed foods and refined sugars mess with digestion and other elements of health. The Keto diet eliminates these foods, calling for a regimen of high fat, moderate protein, and low carbs. The documentary mentioned above, The Magic Pill, highlights t
he remarkable health benefits of this diet, including reduced symptoms of autism and diabetes. (There is plenty of info on the keto diet available, and my understanding of it is limited.)

The quest for better health led my wife to a new philosophy of eating. She now shops the perimeter of the grocery store and rarely buys any processed foods for the family. We frequent the farmers' market. Unfortunately, the coupon section of the newspaper rarely saves us money now, because most coupons promote processed foods.

Our two very different roads led both of us to clean eating. We have better digestion, better sleep, and better mental clarity. She has lost dozens of pounds, and I have taken up my belt another notch.

I'm so glad that we have been on this journey together, because it would be really annoying for both of us if only one cared about good food.

When two roads lead to the same healthy conclusion, there must be something there.

Monday, August 6, 2018

When will we have enough roads?

Every time I go to Oak Island, NC, there is another new road to get me there. We usually go there as a family at least once a year, and that has been our tradition for about 25 years. And every time we make that journey in recent years, I have to find my way again.

I remember going to Long Beach back in the 1970s, long before it became the municipality of Oak Island. Any journey to the beach takes too long, and traveling 200+ miles from Greensboro on the two-lane U.S. 421 was the price to pay to get there. Years later, my own family began the annual tradition of vacationing on that same island. We would allow about 5 hours to make the trip. This year we made it in 3 1/2 hours.

New roads have whittled down our travel time more than I could have imagined. Interstate 40 was extended beyond Greensboro all the way to Wilmington. Then Interstate 140 allowed us to by-pass the whole Port City, extending farther south every vacation. Only this year did I learn that I-40 was the slow way to make the trip. Now we have interstates 73 and 74 that dump out on the doorstep of Oak Island. And I-73 is only about 5 miles from my house. It feels like a secret passage way from home to vacation.

I like to save time as much as anybody. But when will we have enough roads? Are we going to keep on paving huge swaths of countryside? The urban loop around Greensboro is almost complete now. Theoretically the new roads reduce traffic. Does anybody really believe that theory? I have seen traffic worsen considerably in Greensboro as the new roads are completed.

The American mind says that faster is better. If we can get somewhere faster, we must make it happen. It's like a moral obligation. Cities only look at building more roads. No one ever suggests removing them. But there is a finite amount of real estate in this world. If we keep paving, eventually there will be too much pavement. I wonder if we will think of that before it's too late.