As a little girl growing up in Appleton, Wisconsin, I often felt that something was missing, something I needed. My parents were divorced, and we—my older brother and twin sister—split our time between them. They fretted, they fought with each other. They worried about money. Because of their busy schedules, they had little time to spend with us, to feed us.
This is not to say we didn’t eat. We did, and a lot. We ate canned ravioli, boxed macaroni and cheese, packaged lunch meat, and sugar cereals that came in large plastic bags. When we stayed with my father, he occasionally prepared a beef roast or roast chicken. We loved it. He served these dishes with mashed potatoes rich with margarine and gravy. Sometimes he included canned peas that he forced us to eat. He refused to eat them himself.
I remember once, in fifth grade, my father’s mother brazenly served steamed spinach with dinner. Brazen, because my grandfather was as staunchly a meat-and-potatoes man as my father. But I remember eating the spinach—for the first time I could remember—and thinking that … I liked it. Perhaps Popeye wasn’t so wrong, after all.
Another story comes to mind: Though produce in my father’s house was limited mostly to Red Delicious apples and bananas, sometimes, in the thick of summer, he would buy strawberries. He would buy only a pint and our eyes would shine with excitement. After the groceries were put away, we would crowd around the table like Robin Hood and his bandits dividing their spoils. Our sense of fairness was similarly strict: everyone received exactly the same amount. Then, of course, came the eating! The firm, sweet fruit, the summery smell, and the seeds stuck in our teeth. We loved strawberries.
Thinking of how we ate, it is no surprise that we all became vegetarian, at least for a time. Because I believe that what we were missing was nourishment. I believe that, despite one’s raising, whether raised on bratwurst or Texas barbecue, we all long for vegetables deep in our souls. Not just because of some nutritional deficiency, but because we need that direct connection with the earth, and how the earth can grow and feed us so generously.
Now I live in Madison, Wisconsin, a community that carries on a delirious love affair with organic, fresh foods. Bursting with farmer’s markets from spring until late fall, Madison also hosts a strong community-support agriculture movement. Residents can purchase a farm share, which brings them a box of fresh produce each week—from spicy radishes, homely heirloom tomatoes, shiny black eggplants, to knobby celeriac—as long as the growing season lasts.
The food writer M.F.K. Fisher once wrote, “When I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it… and then the warmth and richness and fine reality of hunger satisfied.”
I believe that to nourish the body is to nourish the soul.
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