As part of my ongoing education as a chef, I’m committing myself to reading at least one book/month, on food and how we eat. my roommate recommended a book to me, Grocery: The buying and Selling of Food in America (Ruhlman, michael. Grocery: the buying and selling of food in America, Abrams Press, New York, 2017). This is the story of the author’s fascination with the explosion of the supermarket in America. This fascination began with watching his father, who was absolutely enthralled by the bounty that the supermarket brought; and after his death, pursuing this fascination and discovering how this industry came about.
One of the first thoughts that I had when reading this book is that I am also extremely interested in our food, and where it actually comes from. I had always heard stories growing up about the life that my grandparents had on their sheep ranch in southeast Montana. By the time I came around, they were living in a house in a small town, and the grocery store was already a way of life by that time.
I called my grandmother today(Clarice Curry), to ask her what it was like, and her comments were extremely interesting. Back when she was raising her seven kids with my grandfather, they didn’t get their food from the supermarket. If you wanted to eat, you needed to grow it or raise it yourself. She talked about how she grew a bunch of food in the garden(which continued through my lifetime of being raised by them). How if you wanted to eat during the winter, you needed to make sure that you had food preserved that would last you.
There wasn’t very much beef that was eaten, because the cost was extremely prohibitive. Most of what they ate were vegetables that had been grown in the garden and canned. Meats were mostly pork that has been raised and slaughtered on the ranch, with a bunch of pork being pickled to last through the winter. The same with chickens. You didn’t just go to the store to pick up some food.
The reason I’m fascinated by this is that almost nobody today actually knows where their food comes from. The connection that people have with their food has disappeared, which is extremely disappointing to me. The production and consumption of food is something that ties humans together through the millennia. Along the way, that connection was lost. That lead to what has to be the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen, posted below:
That statement is SO ridiculous, I don’t even have the words…how can you be that out of touch with the real world, that you believe that meat at the grocery store is somehow coming from animals that aren’t killed?!?!? I’m not sure what I can do to try to help people reconnect with their food, but this is slowly morphing into my purpose.
*soapbox on* Food shouldn’t just be something we shove into our faces when we have a few minutes. Food is a human experience…THE universal human experience. You can survive without a smartphone(I know, I know, hard to believe), you can survive without a vehicle. You can survive without a television. You can survive without a LOT of the conveniences that our modern world provides. However, nobody can survive without food. We all need to eat, and we all know most of us are doing it very poorly. I fully believe that a reconnection with our food would go a long ways toward fixing the health issues we have in this country, most of which can be traced back to the food we eat. *soapbox off*
In conclusion to this first part of this book report, I strongly recommend this book to anybody out there who’s interested in tracing the rise of the supermarket in America, and how it’s impacted who we are and what we eat. In part two, I’ll get into more of the nuts and bolts of the industry, and how fascinating some of the trends have been.