How To Eat Like Our Lives Depend On It: Rediscovering the Many Joys of Food

It's time to reclaim the well-being and exuberance that is part of healthy food culture.
Picnic photo by Patrick Barber

Photo by Patrick Barber.

For years, my daughter’s favorite way to spend her birthday was to go huckleberry picking in the mountains east of Seattle. So in early September, we would drive the old family Volvo up the curving Forest Service roads to the crest of the ridge where the best huckleberries grew.

Some years we got lucky. Every bush would be loaded, and we could be choosy—sampling deep purple berries and dusky blue ones in search of the plumpest and most flavorful.

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Other years, we brought home only the few berries the bears and birds had left.

Sometimes, I’d grumble to myself about the time we could save by buying blueberries at the store.

But later, on dark winter mornings, I would sprinkle frozen huckleberries into pancake batter. And when the hot berry juice burst with each bite, I would recall the day spent with my family on the ridgetop.

Gathering food nourishes more than just our bodies. And so does preserving, cooking, and sharing it.

Our fast-food culture has little patience with this idea. Prepared food is sold as convenient and tasty, but it is loaded with fat, salt, and GMO corn syrup, and it’s making us sick. Diabetes, heart disease, strokes, and obesity diminish our lives and threaten to bankrupt our health care system.

Other species, too, suffer as a result of the way we eat. Industrial food production pollutes rivers and streams, creating massive offshore dead zones. It kills off bee colonies, consigns millions of animals to inhumane confinement, and disrupts the climate.

True, industrial food is cheap. But one in five children in the United States experiences hunger, and for many, it’s because their parents are paid poverty-level wages working in the food and agriculture sectors.

Industrial food is actually only cheap when the human and ecological costs are ignored.

This issue of YES! tells the stories of those who are reclaiming the well-being and exuberance that is part of a healthy food culture.

Too often, conversation about food is tinged with guilt and “shoulds.” This issue is about the pleasures of eating well.

You may know, for example, that fermenting preserves foods. But did you know that it also can make food more nutritious and tasty?

A rich microbial ecosystem in our gut keeps us healthy. Now scientists are linking the health of our gut to the microbial ecosystems in the soils where our food is grown.

Food also nourishes community and strengthens culture. When Carlo Petrini learned that a fast-food outlet was to be built in central Rome, he organized a massive feast of traditional Italian cuisine and sparked the Slow Food movement.

Vandana Shiva, scientist, farmer, and YES! contributing editor, devotes her life to protecting the seeds our ancestors passed along to us, which must be protected and propagated if our descendents are to thrive.

Arun Gupta crossed the country hosting locally sourced feasts, and Abby Quillen found a thriving community of food cart vendors—many of them immigrants—who are sharing slow food traditions with grateful customers.

So enjoy the conviviality of sharing a meal, the sharp freshness of just-harvested greens, the sweetness of fresh-pressed apple cider. Draw on your grandmother’s recipes to cook, gather, grow, and prepare food, or create your own traditions.

No need for guilt. Instead of using up soil and polluting the waters, these are ways to eat that restore the balance of living ecosystems, improve our health, and rebuild the relationships that make life a pleasure.