Nature Versus Nurture?

“Ewww!”said my younger son, screwing up his nose and making terrible, traumatised faces as he drank the small glass of milk, with about as much relish as if it were arsenic. “Straight from the udder?”
“‘From moo to you‘ it says on the carton.”
“Completely raw? Not treated…or anything?”
“Yep. Cow juice, just as nature intended.”

I got the distinct impression that he would not be joining his older brother in his enthusiastic conversion to raw milk. I am well aware of the pros and cons of drinking unpasteurised milk, but the taste and health benefits outweigh any minor concerns about safety. The hygiene required for this nascent industry is stringent and well-regulated, and the industry too young to have grown complacent enough to take risks. And anyway, I rather like watching the ‘ladies who munch’ graze in the field while I fill my bottle with the milk they donated that morning.

“Ewww” said my elder son, the one who is into healthy eating and raw milk, screwing up his nose at the prospect of freshly picked blackberries. “There might be maggots and stuff…”
“I washed ’em.”
“Yeah but…” It is not that he doesn’t like blackberries. I had just made him a milkshake with commercially frozen berries… berries which are just as likely to have the odd stowaway and which are not individually inspected. His younger brother, on the other hand, the one to whom raw milk is anathema, enjoys growing his own fruit and vegetables. He has no problem picking off the odd slug or eating potatoes freshly dug from the soil.

I am no better. I carefully wash the few strawberries I have from my own garden, but will happily munch on punnets of fruit bought at the roadside and with no knowledge of what, if any, hygiene measures have been employed.

I think it is the plastic. Over the past few decades we have been ‘educated’, taught to believe the supermarket myth that, if it comes in plastic, it is safe, clean food and we are okay to eat it. This may, on the whole at least, be true, but it does not mean that plasticised food is the only food worth eating or that all else is unsafe.

I grew up in a time when potatoes were still sold covered in earth… and I was fascinated by the different colours and textures of the soils that encased them, wondering how that affected their growth and taste. Fresh fruit and veg may have had a blast from a hosepipe, and greengrocers hand polished their display apples, but most of it came straight from the ground… and most food was what is now expensively labelled as organic.

The local farm that sells raw milk also hosts a cooperative of locally produced food items, from organic meat to home-made jams, villagers’ surplus eggs, home-grown and beautifully misshapen vegetables and honey with the name and address of the ninety-year-old bee-keeper on the hand printed label. The honey my son had been using comes from Bulgaria… hardly local and ecologically not all that friendly in shipping miles. And the co-operative ensures a decent price for the growers too.

I still find it deeply satisfying to know where my food comes from, and that includes being able to see the soil still clinging to my carrots and knowing whether the beef in my casserole is shin or rib. Most younger shoppers have never had to wash a potato or ask for a particular cut of meat. A generation ago, few would have been fazed by having to gut and pluck a chicken. Their parents would have had no problem feeding  the bird in the morning and seeing it on the table at night… I know, my mother was good at that. Today, especially for those who live in urban areas, our food is sanitised, generically labelled and sold on looks not flavour.

That worries me.

We seem to be being systematically brainwashed into dependency by the big-money supermarkets. And this is just one example of the way the society we have created for ourselves is creating a reliance upon the structures that are supposed to serve us. Just one example of how our need to know, to question and to think for ourselves is being eroded…and these ar skills we should be employing in every area of our lives, from what we eat to what we believe. We allowing ourselves to be robbed of knowledge about what we are buying and eating… and meanwhile, we are losing the knack of choosing a ripe melon or a tender steak by sight, smell and touch, stifling our senses and suffocating ourselves with plastic. We rely on the supermarket to do it all for us.

More importantly, we are losing contact with the source of our food. We no longer think of the earth in which the potato grew, any more than we think of the lives, both plant and creature, that sustain our own. We forget the balance of sun and rain, day and night, winter and summer. We eat out of season and forget the seasons’ place in the grand and beautiful dance of life and growth.

Greengrocer’s, butcher’s and baker’s shops are disappearing rapidly from our towns. Convenience and the buying power of the supermarkets have already won the day and beggared small farmers. We cannot all afford the extra cost of organic food, especially when there is no farm selling local produce or innovative cooperative handy. But one thing we can all do, every day, is take a moment to consider what we eat and where it grew. It is a small act of gratitude… and a substantial act of rebellion against the fallacy that plastic is best. An act of rebellion that reclaims control and allows us to choose.

If we do not care about the earth that cares for us, we will damage it to the point where it can no longer do so.  It has taken a generation, that’s all, for town dwellers to lose the skills required to provide ourselves with food and informed choice, abrogating responsibility in favour of convenience. We forget reverence and gratitude and our connection to the earth that gives us life.