This week, I took a couple planned days off (and one unplanned to take care of my fiery hot feverish baby) so the back to school week would be less hectic. I had planned to spend the first day of school relaxing after the kids got on the bus, but it is just not in my nature to sit back and do nothing. So, as is typical of me at this time of year, I attempted to put up some of the harvest for the snowy winter. As I was chopping and boiling and freezing, I reflected on the fact that I would make a really great homesteader…if only I didn’t have to work for a living. In any case, I find it hard to let go of the work that this puts in front of me. I truly believe that if I can feed our family mostly locally grown foods that have minimal processing, we will be healthier. I also believe that we were put on this earth to take care of it, and I am doing my part by reducing waste, eliminating as many harmful chemicals as I can, and limiting what we use as much as possible. I have researched the processes that I use to grow and preserve our food, and I follow many great writers about their own journeys on this course, but one thing has become evident to me:
Most (if not all) of the writers are definitely NOT full time working mothers of three small children. Most of them work very hard at what they do all day, but their primary responsibility is to take care of the home. I wish I could do the same. So, how do I handle my responsibilities at home when I have 40 less hours a week than most of these mothers? I take shortcuts.
My shortcuts don’t compromise my values, though. Over the past decade, I have found the balance that works best for me. It’s evolving as our needs change and my knowledge grows. When I worked primarily the evening shifts, for example, I had time during the day to make homemade foods but I wasn’t home at the right time to serve them. My shortcut then was to make ahead and either freeze for a day in the future, pack a casserole into a dish for heating later, or throw together a crock pot meal. Now, with my more traditional work hours, I focus more on the saving of local, seasonal foods in minimally processed ways. Our growing season here is short and I work hard in the summer and early fall to have healthy, homegrown food to eat the rest of the year. I feel better when we are less reliant on processed, prepackaged food.
Where did all this processed junk come from, anyway? If you take a look back in history, commercially prepared processed meal solutions was a solution for the overworked and increasing number of women in the workforce. The answer to a working woman’s struggle to put food on the table, they were meant to help us by reducing our responsibilities. Right. And instead of real food solutions, we got some bland tasting and not-too-appealing looking foods. Then, salt and sugars were added to enhance flavors and chemicals were added that could turn any substance into whatever flavor we wanted. We could have gum that tasted like a whole meal, just like in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, but without the bloat coming from the blueberry pie at the end…well, unless you count the overactive fat cells that result from all this processed food. Then, to make it look better, colors were added (again, in the form of chemicals) to give it the color it would have if it were fresh, real food. Really? You mean those bits of strawberry in my instant oatmeal are really pieces of apple with strawberry flavor and red dye? Yup. And to counteract the increasing waistlines, artificial sweeteners were introduced. Did you know artificial sweeteners actually increase appetite? Then came the low fat products that added more sugars to replace the fats. Are you starting to get the picture? Most of our processed, packaged foods are so depleted in nutrients that they are fortified with vitamins before final packaging. The marketing, then, touts this as an advantage. As if: fortified with vitamin C is better than getting vitamin C naturally. Say, from an actual orange rather than highly processed but fortified juice drinks.
I have people say to me quite often: what does it hurt to use the prepared meals? It is a cheap way to put food on the table when money is tight. Clip coupons and you can buy 10 cans of prepared soup for 50 cents and save yourself time and money! Yes, but at what cost? Before we switched to eating “real food” and minimizing processed, my husband was a very brittle diabetic. I had been diagnosed with fibromyaglia. My oldest daughter would NOT eat a vegetable. Now, my husband (who still has diabetes) is more in control and has lost weight. The symptoms that often kept me in bed of moving minimally are mostly gone unless I consume a product with artificial sweeteners. My daughters will (mostly happily) eat vegetables as long as they are fresh and prepared well. So, I can choose to save money and time, or I can have my health. It seems a no brainer to me.
So, back to my shortcuts. How does a working mother of 3 children serve home baked bread, homemade pasta sauce, and grow her own vegetables? I use tools that make it easier. I have a kitchen aid mixer (the best purchase I’ve made in the past several years) that mixes and kneads my bread for me while I attend to other things in the kitchen. My food processor mixes up healthy batches of pesto for a quick pasta dish. I have 3 crock pots that can slow cook a meal all day. I grow my vegetables vertically on ladders, poles and towers to eliminate the weeding and kneeling that comes with normal gardens and double my harvest. I invested in a top of the line Santouku knife, own a food chopper for garlic and onions, and a strawberry huller that only cost 50 cents. This year, I purchased a food mill to remove the seeds and skins from my tomatoes with ease. Never underestimate the value of a simple $30 gadget. In summers past, I blanched every individual tomato, seeded and juice it, chopped it, then boiled them down together to make sauce. This year, I throw all the tomatoes in whole (minus stems, hard cracks, and brown spots), simmer them slowly while I go about my day, and then strain out the seeds and skins with a crank over a glass bowl. I estimate this saves my at least 1-2 hours EACH BATCH of sauce.
Do I still spend more time on food than I would if I bought a jar of sauce of the shelf? Of course. Can I use a coupon to buy the heirloom tomatoes that I grow in my yard or get from the farm? No. Does my house accumulate a good deal of heat and humidity on my cooking days? Yup! Do we eat fresh, home made sauce and taste every ray of sunshine that hit each tomato in the middle of a long, cold winter? Yes, we do! Not everyone has the desire, the motivation, or the knowledge to be able to do all the growing and preserving that I do. Most of my friends (and at least a good portion of my family!) think I’m a little bit nuts for all that I do. But, I have a growing number of friends who have inquired about how I do what I do and how they can get started, too. So, friends, this post is for you. Decide what is most important to you and then talk to friends, follow other bloggers, and see what’s out there to help you reach your goals. Start slow and work your way into it. I promise you won’t be sorry!
postscript: just so you know, this post will be quickly followed by a post titled “why I cheat!” and why I don’t always follow my own rules!