Decades before there was what we know of today as “farm to table,” most Americas lived that way.
What I mean is, there was little separation from what showed up on the dinner table because of where we lived, and what we ate. Outside of big cities like New York, Chicago and St. Louis, what we ate came from what we grew, or from neighbors and friends.
Shopping involved buying supplies like flour, oil, salt, pepper, what were called “essentials.” What we now purchase when we shop like eggs, butter, meat and poultry, vegetables and fruit, these were all seasonally grown and harvested then. Most houses had both a pantry where items were placed so they would be handy, and a cellar where canned jars of tomatoes, fruits and other items were stored for later use during the winter months. And of course there were crocks of pickles, beets and other root vegetables waiting for just that right moment.
The continued flow of produce and fruits at our local market is the miracle of transportation that sources from different growing climates. When it is winter here, it is summer somewhere else. Containers, often filled with inert gas(es), are flown and shipped from one point to another on the globe. It appears we have an endless summer when we walk through the vegetable isles in our markets. The same is true with fish, poultry and meats. It is always there, displayed before our eyes, either wrapped or unwrapped. From feed pens to the slaughterhouse to the butcher to our table, the supply chain has been built to offer us, the consumer, a cornucopia of beef, pork, chicken and fish.
Somewhere around the 1960’s, perhaps this had to do with the growth of suburban sprawl, consumption became more about shopping than asking where or how this all came to our grocers. It was easier to move down the isles, selecting this cereal or that can of coffee or this package of meat based on convenience and price. Those in the grocery business and food supply chain knew what we wanted and provided it. It was all so easy.
I grew up in a small town in Missouri and our household was filled with seasonal fruits ( cherries, peaches, plums and pears) and vegetables brought over from the neighbors’ surplus crops.
My dad loved rhubarb pie so we had a patch growing down along the fence in the lower yard. Summer and fall canning were a yearly ritual, and our neighbor across the street hunted and fished. He brought over squirrel, rabbit, deer and fillets from sturgeon and bass. Everyone shared.
At some point, I remember my mother beginning to rely more and more on the local I.G.A. and Kroger stores for shopping. It was the growing trend at that time and at just a five minutes drive, it was convenient. Frozen vegetables, frozen fish, bread baked in St. Louis and brought by trucks along with milk and dairy products (including eggs) from distant locations became part of our diets. The I.G.A. market may have had local meats, but the Kroger store’s meats probably came from Chicago or Kansas City. The “local” was disappearing from our table and from the tables of our neighbors.
I don’t remember all the particulars of this happening. But I do remember what we ate began to taste differently. Now I realize what this was: It just didn’t taste as good.
Paul Rest lives in Sonoma County, California. He has been enjoying California wines and foods since arriving in California. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.