I have a confession to make. A confession to the world…
I am a homemade hippie.
What does that mean? It means about what you think it means. It means that I like to cook and bake, but I turn my nose up at most box mixes. It means that I generally don’t buy processed foods. It means that I like to make my own bread, my own pasta sauce and I am contemplating learning how to can things. It means that I prefer local produce or sometimes organic produce.
Quite a scandal, I know. It is surprising to me how people react when they learn that you have food convictions. It is the look of horror that confuses me most; when you can tell the person thinks I have gone to the Dark Side, drank the Kool-Aid and lost all my sense. Some people think I am old fashioned. Some people think I’m new-fangled. I just think I’m me.
Now, I haven’t always been a homemade hippie. I’ve always enjoyed food and learned to like cooking in college, but I started to veer away from the standard American grocery list about two years ago. My husband and I were newly married college students finishing up our final year and working part-time jobs unrelated to our major fields. Money was a long-lost friend and I was tasked with using $160 to feed two adults for a month. Suddenly going to the grocery store was a whole new ballgame. I eyed every item with suspicion.
I would look at the bag of chips that I could buy for $2 and then I would look at the pound of grapes I could also buy for $2. “Why should I spend $2 to take you home?” I would say to the potato chips. They tell me of how satisfyingly salty they are and wax poetic about the way they crunch. I am tempted and begin to put them in my cart, but then I see what they were trying to hide from me. 16% of my daily fat, 7% of sodium and no nutrients worth noticing, in one ounce! And who only eats one ounce of potato chips? Nice try potato chips, but I am not fooled. I put the chips back and choose the grapes that are juicy and sweet and full of nutrients that will energize my body and not carbo-crash my body.
Soon, I was checking for all the dirty secrets listed on the back labels. I was checking for excess calories, salt and sugar. While those may taste delicious, they pump extra calories into your food that it wasn’t meant to have, in addition to having no positive nutrients to speak of. And thus a small portion has more than enough calories to meet your body’s needs, but your stomach is not satisfied and so you end up eating more and suddenly there was 1,000 calories in one meal. Alas! That can of ravioli looks tempting, but all it gives you is empty calories and a broken heart. Resist its enticing gaze. Gym memberships and doctor bills are expensive.
Also on the back labels, I found strange, unpronounceable words and things like red 40 and yellow 5. Those are ingredients? What aisle can you pick those up in? I began to wonder if I really needed those in my food, in my body and in my husband’s body. I am very thankful my grocery store is getting more and more “natural” options. (That is just what they call the line. Natural is just a word with no regulation. Learn more about food labels like organic and natural and what they mean here.) So, where the regular can of beans had an ingredient list of prepared kidney beans, water, cane syrup, salt, high fructose corn syrup, calcium chloride, disodium EDTA; the Naturals version had kidney beans, water, salt. You know, I really like the sound of that better.
It also wasn’t long before I began to realize it was cheaper and tastier to make things from scratch rather than getting the frozen skillet meal or the powdered pancake mix. So I began to invest in raw ingredients and challenge myself with what I could make myself. I must give much credit to a few special cookbooks in my life that really pushed my limits on what I thought I could make. The first was Lucinda. (Yes, we are on a first name basis.) I met Lucinda on the second floor balcony of the downtown Borders a few weeks into their closing sale. She was jammed into a bottom shelf and the name jumped out to me. Mad Hungry: Feeding Men and Boys. It was a cook book all about making healthy, but filling meals. I was intrigued and flipped through the introduction. By the time I made it through breakfast I was hooked. I knew I had to have this book and it has never disappointed me. I use it often. More have followed and some of the other most influential cookbooks in my life are Artisan Breads Everyday by Peter Reinhart and The Homemade Pantry by Alana Chernila. These books showed me how to make great food and taught me to think things like, “Why couldn’t I make my own pie dough? Pudding? Pretzels? Pasta? Peanut Butter?” They have inspired me to try and most often have guided me to success.
As I began to be more conscious of the food I was buying, I began to wonder more about it. Where did it come from? How was it grown? Who picked my produce? Are they paid a decent wage? How much fuel was used to ship the produce to my grocery story? How long did it sit on a truck, losing nutrients by the day? Did the chicken I’m roasting ever see daylight in its life? I began to question if I was using my money to support business and environmental ethics I don’t agree with. I began to question my blind trust in the packaged goods that just appeared out of a backroom onto the shelves. That is when I started venturing to Farmer’s Markets where you can meet the growers, ask them about their farm and even drive out on an afternoon to see it if you were so inclined. I also knew whatever money I was spending there went right back into my community and I really like my community so I want to see it flourish.
You have probably heard of The Five Love Languages: quality time, gifts, physical touch, words of affirmation and acts of service. But there are those of us who know there is a sixth way to express love. Somewhere between gifts and service is the love language of food. My mother, my grandmother and just about every woman in my family is instilled with a strong, driving desire to feed people. I have come to realize that I have also inherited this. So, I am a homemade hippie because I am thrifty and want to make sure I am getting the most out of my food for the money. I am a homemade hippie because I am socially conscious and want to make sure my money supports people and ethics I agree with. I am a homemade hippie because I am creative and enjoy experimenting to bring several ingredients together to create something new. But most of all, I am a homemade hippie because providing delicious, nutritious and high quality food is how I show family, friends, guests and the occasional handyman that I love and appreciate them in my life. How could I do less?