Food Value

By , February 14, 2013

The hardest part about finishing the writing process is the certain knowledge that soon after completing it, the perfect addition to it will appear.

The morning after I published my latest ebook, Sacred Coffee: A “Homesteader’s” Paradigm, Michelle and I breakfasted on sourdough pancakes.

For me, there can be few more fitting toppings for a stack of sourdough flapjacks than spruce honey. I finished the dregs of one jar (carefully wiping it out thoroughly with a dry pancake—waste not want not!) and opened a new one, mindful that it was the third to last jar. A quick calculation confirmed that we would finish our remaining honey by May, just in time for the spruce tip gathering season.

This led us into a discussion about eating seasonally, and how that affects the value of food.

Seasonal eating is a given here on the “homestead.” Like spruce tips, everything we forage locally must come in its season.  It’s available for a brief period, then it is gone, unless it can be stored by canning, drying, or other means, to see us through until its season returns. Our garden produce has the same limitations; hunting seasons and fish runs enforce seasonal eating as well.

In addition to these, we try to eat store bought foods seasonally. This not only improves freshness, but mitigates (if sometimes only slightly) the costs to society these represent.

For example, we eat apples in the late summer to early winter, making sure that the fruit comes from the west coast, preferably Washington state. Any other time of year, it’s either a “warehouse” apple from there, or, more often, “fresh” shipped from New Zealand. Eating a fruit that will be available for a season in our own biosphere makes more sense than eating it outside of our accustomed season and from a different hemisphere!

Our discussion turned to how our concept of value differs from that of many wealthy people.

For us, value comes from knowing the food is rare, available only for a short season, and scarce through the rest of the year. If put up, it needs to be husbanded to last until we can have more; if we run out before then, we do without until the season returns.

Paradoxically, some wealthy people seek out the rarest foods as a status symbol. They have a long history of presenting foods to guests that are out of season or otherwise difficult to come by as a sign of their wealth.

Consider the medieval banquet: does one imagine that anyone would ever crave pie made of hummingbird tongues? The cost of obtaining such a dish made it special, not the food itself.

Therefore, for us, a strawberry is valuable if it can be eaten at its ripest, fresh-picked from our garden in summer, while for many wealthy people, a strawberry is valuable when it can be served fresh in winter.

Michelle extended this to activities in general. She observed that while we enjoy snowshoeing, we had only one day of good snowshoeing this winter; at this point, it seems that will be the only genuine opportunity. When we eventually snowshoe again, we’ll appreciate it more for having missed it for so long.

A wealthy person could travel to where they can reliably participate in winter sports, or go off snorkeling or water skiing in the dead of winter, for that matter.

Sadly, we realized that we are more likely to appreciate these seasonally-specific aspects of life than those who are wealthy enough to indulge in them at whim. By restricting ourselves to seasonal usage, voluntarily or through necessity, what we use becomes rarer to us, and therefore more valuable.

This is exactly the kind of essay that should have been included in Sacred Coffee. I searched the blog for something like it, didn’t find anything, and moved ahead without it. Now, here it is.

I suppose I could say there’s a rarity and value in that, as well.

Leave a Reply

Panorama Theme by Themocracy