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We love labels. March 10, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes, wit and wisdom.
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We humans just love to label ourselves. And that’s never more true than in our dietary habits.

Silence Dogood here. Humans are all born omnivores—pretty much capable of eating anything they can get their hands on. We share this useful adaptive trait with apes and monkeys, dogs, bears, parrots, rats, and flies, among others. It helped our species spread and thrive wherever there was anything edible to be found.

Of course, some of us are more omnivorous than others. There are those with intolerances, such as to lactose or gluten, and those with allergies, as to peanuts or shellfish. These people have labels, but they’re not of their choosing. And there are people who won’t eat certain foods like pork and seafood for religious reasons. It’s the rest of us I’m writing about here.

Take me. I’m a vegetarian. This means that I choose to avoid all types of meat and foods containing meat products (such as lard and gelatin). But I’ll eat sterile eggs from free-range hens if they’re organic and the hens haven’t eaten feed enriched with fish offal to up the eggs’ omega-3 content. And I’ll eat organic dairy products from humanely raised cows. This is quite different from vegans, who are basically vegetarians who also won’t eat eggs, dairy, honey, or any other animal derivative. Vegans typically make their food choices for moral reasons, while vegetarians may make theirs for moral or health reasons.

Then there are piscatarians (from pisces, fish), who refrain from all meat but fish and seafood. Since killing and eating fish and seafood is the same as killing and eating other animals for meat, I presume that these folks follow this lifestyle for health rather than moral reasons.

Next come the flexitarians, who sometimes eat meat and sometimes don’t, as it suits them. Basically, they’re omnivores who wanted to call themselves by a fancier name.

Let’s not forget the locavores, omnivores who pride themselves on eating what’s in season in their immediate area. While I applaud everyone who supports local farms and wineries, who patronizes their local farmers’ markets, who joins a CSA (subscription produce farm, typically organic), and the like, unless you live in a warm climate or are really invested in canning and freezing in season, winter can be rather bleak for those of us trying to eat out of our gardens or local farmers’ gardens when we’re buried under two feet of ice and snow for three months.

Today, I discovered a new label for people who want to set themselves apart from the omnivorous herd. These people are omnivores, too, but they’ve chosen to call themselves “nutritarians,” to emphasize the wholesome nature of their diet, i.e., stripping all the life and flavor out of food in the name of nutritional guidelines. The sample recipe I saw was horrifying to behold. It was a dish containing kale, potatoes, carrots, two kinds of legumes (black beans and chickpeas), onion, and garlic.

I read on because I could see how to make it a good dish—saute the onion and garlic in olive oil, and when the onion had clarified, add the kale and seasonings (red pepper flakes, fresh-cracked black pepper, salt, oregano, thyme, basil, and rosemary), cooking just until the kale turned shiny bright green. Meanwhile, boil the potatoes and sliced carrots until soft but not mushy. Quarter the potatoes and stir them, the carrots, and the canned beans into the kale-onion-garlic mix, heat until the beans were heated through, then serve.

But no. The “nutritarian” had noted that she’d modified a friend’s recipe to fit nutritarian guidelines, which meant that all the ingredients (minus the oil and most of the seasonings) were boiled together at the same time, then served up as a kind of stewed slop. Eeeewww!!! Doesn’t this person realize that olive oil and seasonings are good for you, making food more digestible as well as more flavorful?! Guess not.

Whatever the case, maybe it’s time to stop labeling ourselves and just eat.

‘Til next time,



Vegetarians understand. February 13, 2014

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Silence Dogood here. This morning, my Yahoo homepage featured an article from Cosmopolitan.com called “23 Problems Only Gluten-Free People Understand.” A number of the problems were related to the fact that wheat (and thus gluten) is hidden in so many products, from beer and soy sauce to peppermint Altoids, and that people on gluten-free diets have to be constantly on their guard, reading labels, asking questions. Eating salad for supper when they go out in case the soup or gravy has been thickened with flour. Generally being a pain at parties and family gatherings.

Trust me, as a vegetarian, I understand. Long before there was gluten-free eating, even before there were vegans, there were vegetarians. And yes, we too had to resort to constant label-reading (and to this day), to make sure insidious ingredients like gelatin (made from calves’ hooves) and lard hadn’t snuck into seemingly innocuous products like crackers, yogurt (!!! damn you, Yoplait), spreadable better-than-butter alternatives, vitamin capsules, and yes, Altoids. (Gelatin in mints? Please.) Not to mention fish oil in such unlikely places as milk and eggs that have been omega-3 enhanced.

We’ve had to ask if the soup at a given restaurant was made with beef, chicken, or fish stock, if the miso soup in a Japanese restaurant was made with dashi (bonito tuna flakes), if desserts were made with gelatin. We’ve had to patiently explain to our server, after ordering a club sandwich with no meat and receiving one without the chicken or whatever but with bacon, that in fact, bacon was meat. We’ve had to decline the gazpacho that our hostess made “just for us” with beef stock. (Gazpacho with beef stock?!!) We’ve passed up endless slices of pie with “authentic” lard-based crusts, and had to ask every time we go to a Mexican restaurant or buy a can of refried beans if they’re made with lard.

In short, we’ve had to get used to making a pain of ourselves. In the most polite, apologetic way, but still. So we know what you gluten-free folks are going through. Hang in there, do your homework, and above all, be considerate. Just as it’s not other people’s fault that we choose to be vegetarian or vegan, it’s not other people’s fault you can’t tolerate gluten. Be kind, be patient, and you’ll find that people will be happy to help you. Except, apparently, the Altoid company.

‘Til next time,


Sloppy reporting. June 5, 2013

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Silence Dogood here. If you’ve ever taken a class in statistics, you know that by shaping the parameters of a study, you can make it say whatever you want. (“Three out of four people have blue eyes,” you can announce, if you find three blue-eyed people and pair them up with a brown-eyed person. No matter that blue eyes are in fact the second-rarest and brown eyes the most common.) Sponsored studies are conducted all the time at the behest of corporations with agendas. They put up the money, and scientists who have kids to send to college and mortgages to pay off find themselves reporting that people who eat three Big Macs a day or Monsanto-engineered foods live longer, healthier lives.

This is our reality, and caveat emptor, buyer beware. Of course it makes me sick. But there should be a barrier between the public and research of this kind, and that barrier is journalism. Journalists understand the nature of statistics better than most. They should be watching for the corporate-funded studies that amazingly happen to support corporate greed. And they should be watching for studies that are inherently flawed, even if the flaws are inadvertent, before trumpeting results that are dubious at best and inaccurate at worst.

What set me off on this tirade was an article in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, “Green Is Good: Vegetarians Live Longer, Study Finds.” You might have thought that I, as a vegetarian, would have been thrilled by this article. But I wasn’t, because the results were flawed, and the reporter didn’t pick up on it.

The good folks conducting the research didn’t compare just any vegetarians with omnivores. They looked at the health history of Seventh-Day Adventists versus the general omnivorous public. Yes, Seventh-Day Adventists are vegetarian. But they also don’t drink, smoke, or take drugs.

For the results to be valid, the scientists conducting the study would have to either compare Seventh-Day Adventists to omnivores who also didn’t smoke, drink, or take drugs, or compare vegetarians in the general population to omnivores in the general population, who might or might not indulge in smoking, drinking, or the like. The only appropriate conclusion from this study is “Seventh-Day Adventists Live Longer, Study Finds.” Shame on the reporter for not calling out such an obvious flaw!

Given the prevalence of such sloppy reporting, it’s up to us to keep our eyes wide open when reading the conclusions drawn by statistical research. Who funded the study? Do the conclusions benefit the entity that sponsored it? Is there some inherent logical flaw in the research, something that would throw off the results, even if no one stands to benefit from them? Put on your Sherlock Holmes deerstalker cap next time you read about a study that “proves” this or that. Maybe it does. But then again, maybe it’s just bad science.

‘Til next time,


I could eat a horse. January 17, 2013

Posted by ourfriendben in pets, recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. I’m sure you’re familiar with the expression “I’m so hungry I could eat a horse.” But most of us assume that refers to the size of the meal we’d like to consume rather than its content. So when I read the headline in today’s Yahoo! News, “Horse meat found in supermarket burgers,” I started shouting for our friend Ben.

“Eeeeewwww!!! Ben, wait ’til you hear this!”

OFB’s response surprised me. “Well, there’s nothing actually wrong with horse meat, is there?” Well, no, actually. The French famously eat horse meat. In this country, it’s used in dog food. Neither the French nor our dogs seem any the worse for the experience.

“It’s because it’s called ‘horse meat’ that people find it repulsive,” Ben continued. “It’s not too appetizing to think of ‘cow meat’ or ‘duck meat’, either.”

This is a point that, as a vegetarian, I’ve thought about a lot. I suspect that other societies are more forthright about what they call their meat, but in the English-speaking world, a sharp linguistic divide separates the live and the cooked. The names of the meats we consume are French in derivation, with their origins in the Norman invasion of England in 1066. The names of the creatures slaughtered for meat are of Anglo-Saxon descent.

Thus we have pigs but eat pork, cows but eat beef, rabbits but eat hare, calves but eat veal, sheep but eat mutton, deer but eat venison. It appears that the need to separate ourselves from our actions didn’t extend to birds and fish, which are typically called the same thing live and cooked, with the possible exception of the euphemism “seafood.” (Another headline in today’s Yahoo! News reported that scientific studies had proved that crabs could actually feel pain. Duh!!! I wonder how much it cost the taxpayers to find that out.)

I’ve always been puzzled about why we categorize some animals as appropriate for eating and others as inappropriate. We readily eat cows but not horses (relished in France), wouldn’t consider eating a dog (relished in Korea) or cat (eaten in China), couldn’t imagine slaughtering our pet guinea pigs (a staple food in the Andes) or bunnies (raised for food worldwide). Not to mention the ultimate source of meaty sustenance, people, with their high fat content and abundant muscle and soft, yielding skin, preferred by cannibalistic societies across the globe until global conquest by the Victorians wiped out those foodways.

To take the life of a fellow creature, to try to pretend that it is subhuman and therefore feels no pain as we butcher it or boil it alive or eviscerate and even eat it alive without bothering to kill it first, to separate ourselves from the source of our food, our fellow creatures, is horrific to me. To give the cooked version different names from the live animals that we kill, so we don’t have to think about them as we wolf down our boeuf bourguinon or weinerschnitzel or pate de foie gras, is hypocritical and horrifying, separating us from the acts of murder or actual torture we continually commit or support for our incidental pleasure.

No one needs to kill to enjoy a wide range of delicious and healthful foods. But should you opt for a meat-based diet, please understand what you’re actually eating, and assume responsibility for your fellow creatures dying in agony and unnecessarily for your own indulgent pleasures. Imagine a superior, alien race descending upon Earth and viewing humans as we view, say, bison, a simple source of protein. Imagine being rounded up and slaughtered to provide the aliens with food, despite who and what we are, with every consideration and respect discounted. To be, in short, considered nothing more than a food source. Would you enjoy that?

Please at least think about it.

‘Til next time,


Vegetarians, hooray! No gelatin in Marshmallow Fluff! November 21, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. If, like me, you grew up with peanut butter and marshmallow cream sandwiches, and marshmallow cream on your hot fudge sundaes—or, say, marshmallow cream on the revered Thanksgiving sweet potato casserole—and became vegetarian at some point, you were probably horrified to learn that marshmallows, and marshmallow cream, contain gelatin.

Gelatin is made from calves’ feet, which means that Jell-O, marshmallows, and such unlikely products as Goo-Goo Clusters and Altoids are off-limits to vegetarians. Rats!

Here at Hawk’s Haven, our friend Ben and I grew up with Thanksgiving sweet potatoes roasted and served with butter, salt, and black pepper, so we never had to contend with the iconic marshmallow-covered sweet potato casserole. But those peanut butter sandwiches and sundaes were favorite treats, even if we don’t really eat them now. So I was thrilled to read in today’s Wall Street Journal (www.wsj.com) that Marshmallow Fluff doesn’t contain gelatin. Vegetarians, rejoice! Nobody’s going to say the stuff is good for you. But at least you can enjoy it on Thanksgiving or when you’re craving a peanut butter sandwich or sundae, and not have to worry about gelatin.

             ‘Til next time,


And here we go again. August 10, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in critters, gardening, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. I just read a blog post about a farmer and passionate locavore (someone who promotes local, regional, in-season foods). So far, so good, right? But then the guy started attacking vegans for being self-righteous. He pointed out that it takes a lot more fertilizer to grow vegetables than, say, cattle.

Well, of course it does, if you raise your cattle on grass. You put your fields into pasture and let your cattle out in them to wander and graze. The cattle enjoy being out under the blue sky and they enjoy grazing, as they evolved to do, and on the plus side, they give back to the fields as they go along with all-natural fertilizer. As long as you don’t put more cattle on the fields than the ecosystem can support, you have a balanced system, at least until the grass dies back in late autumn. Then it’s time to butcher the cattle or feed them on grain or silage until the following spring. 

By contrast, if you’re an organic gardener, as our friend Ben and I are, you don’t really focus on growing plants. You focus on growing soil. The fruits and vegetables you raise are a bonus that you get for creating rich, balanced, wonderful soil. You compost your table scraps, you have an earthworm composter, you’re constantly thinking of ways to enrich and improve the soil in your garden beds. You scour the neighborhood for bags of grass clippings in spring and summer and leaves in fall. You beg your neighbors for their clippings and scraps; you ask your local grocery what they do with their spoiled produce. You shred paper not to conceal your personal data but to feed your worm composter and compost bins. 

Yes, this is certainly more work than letting a field go to grass. But that’s not the point. Vegetarians and vegans aren’t trying to save work by not eating meat. They’re trying to save the world by not eating meat. They’re trying to point out that killing our fellow creatures also kills us, because it deadens us to the deaths of others. They’re trying to say that becoming sensitized to what we put in our mouths might make us more compassionate to all life, to each other. It might keep us from starting and perpetuating wars.

There are plenty of other ways to try to save the world, and people who choose to eat meat can do a world of good by taking those paths. I don’t think it’s appropriate or kind to condemn anyone based on their dietary choices. You may eat meat, but teach in a prison. You may eat meat, but visit the dying in hospitals and hospices. You may eat meat, but volunteer at an animal shelter or drive for Meals on Wheels or donate time and money to Habitat for Humanity or the Peace Corps. Who am I to judge you?!

But please, who are you to judge me? Please stop attacking me because I’m a vegan who can’t bear the thought of killing animals just to feed myself when I don’t have to. Let me live with my choice in peace, as I let you live with yours. Let me fertilize my garden, and grow my vegetables, and eat them without being attacked for doing what I see as right. Stop trying to justify your meat-eating by attacking me for not eating meat. If you want to eat meat, eat it. If I refuse to eat meat, so be it. There’s plenty of room in this world for us to coexist.

                 ‘Til next time,


The vegetarian’s dilemma. July 13, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. I just read that a Match.com survey of 4,000 people revealed that 30% of meat-eaters wouldn’t date a vegetarian or vegan, as opposed to just 4% of vegetarians who wouldn’t date a meat-eater. This brought back memories of my mother’s horror when I became a vegetarian: She was sure I’d never get a date again.

I guess I was lucky. I dated a hugely committed vegetarian when I was still a meat-eater, and it wasn’t a deal-breaker for me. Everyone since has eaten meat while I was a vegetarian, and they didn’t seem to have a problem with that. My ex-husband, who ate meat while we were married, became a passionate vegetarian after our divorce. And our friend Ben, who eats meat when we dine out, has been very contented with my vegetarian home cooking and has made a real effort to man up to my new vegan cuisine.

The only thing that surprises me is that the percentages on both sides aren’t considerably higher. Bonding over food is one of our strongest ways to connect with others and to assert and reinforce our group identity. And meat is the food of the elite, the strong, the manly. The wealthy can afford to have their personal chefs prepare the seafood-based diets that keep them thin; for the rest of us, a steak is the ultimate luxury, and fried chicken or barbecue or a pepperoni pizza or burger the ultimate comfort food. My mother was right to be worried. Whatever sets you apart from your group isolates you, and we humans are inherently social beings. We want to belong, and if belonging means conforming, most of us try hard to fit in.

Then there are the rest of us, the ones who want to wear clothes that are flattering to us rather than the current styles; the ones who couldn’t care less about celebrities and mindless shopping; the ones who’ve never smoked a cigarette or taken drugs, and who don’t drink beer because we don’t like the taste and aren’t willing to cultivate it just to fit in. The ones who are bored to tears by sports and sitcoms and reality TV and refuse to waste their precious time watching them just to be part of the crowd. The ones who want to make their own decisions rather than being manipulated and told what to do.

Match.com, and my mother, are here to tell us that there’s a high social price for going our own way. But I’m living proof that it ain’t necessarily so. And there’s one thing I can say for sure: Avoiding the pressure to pretend to be someone you’re not makes for a wonderful, enjoyable life.

As Shakespeare said, “To thine own self be true.”

               ‘Til next time,


A vegan who eats meat. February 19, 2012

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“I’m a vegan who eats meat.”

Silence Dogood here. Browsing some cookbook reviews on Amazon yesterday, I came on one that began with the sentence I quote above. What the bleep?! Was the person being sarcastic? Had they given up dairy and eggs, and thus considered themselves to be “vegan” while still chowing down on burgers and steak? Or were they just, like most of us, confused?

I decided to take a stab at clarifying the dietary definitions bombarding us these days, with new ones seemingly cropping up daily. Here’s my list:

Omnivores. Humanity’s natural state—a state we share with bears, dogs, monkeys and apes, pigs, chickens, rats, and many others—in which we’ll eat anything as long as we can get our hands on it and it’s edible. 

Locavores. Those who eat foods they can source locally or regionally. Locavores can be omnivores, vegetarians, vegans, or any of the other categories that follow. 

Flexitarians. People who are vegetarian, except when they want to eat meat. (“I’m a vegetarian who eats meat.”) In other words, omnivores who eat less meat than other omnivores.

Piscatarians. People who eat fish and seafood but not meat. From the Latin pisces, fish.

Vegetarians. People who don’t eat meat, fish, seafood, or derivatives that involve taking life, including meat stocks and broths, gelatin products, products made from animal rennet, fertile eggs, caviar, and etc. Vegetarians will eat dairy and/or infertile hens’ eggs.

Vegans. In addition to the prohibitions followed by vegetarians, vegans don’t eat dairy, eggs, honey, and anything made with yeast. They also won’t wear leather, fur, and, I assume, silk. Needless to say, there is no such thing as “a vegan who eats meat.” 

Raw foodists. As the name implies, these folks won’t eat anything that’s been cooked. I assume they’re vegans, but for all I know, they may be wolfing down sashimi, steak tartare and wichitti grubs with the best of them.

Fruitarians. These gentle, super-vegan souls refuse to eat anything that is still growing, including leaves, stems and roots. They’ll only eat seeds, nuts and fruits that would have dropped from the plant anyway. This means that tomatoes, corn, grapes, apples, peanuts and sunflower seeds are fair game, but carrots, onions, potatoes, spinach, asparagus, rhubarb, lettuce and the like are strictly verboten. 

Macrobiotics. I’ve saved this one for last because it’s so much more complicated than the others. In some ways, it’s closest to a healthy vegan diet, but it appears to be like that solely for health rather than moral reasons, since, though it bans meat and shellfish, white-fleshed fish is allowed.

A vegan, after all, could subsist on peanut butter and jelly, potato chips, and chocolate, and be perfectly entitled to call themselves vegan, as long as it wasn’t milk chocolate and the chips hadn’t been fried in lard. People who follow macrobiotics are on a different path, one based in pre-industrial Japanese eating habits.

To be macrobiotic, you must embrace a truly health-conscious diet, including whole grains, beans, green leafy vegetables, winter squash, sea vegetables, and traditionally made soy foods like miso and tofu. The emphasis is on eating seasonally and moderately, eating fresh, whole foods, and choosing organic, local food sources.

All this makes sense. Where macrobiotics differs from other diets is its focus on matching food to climate. It divides the world into temperate (four-season) and tropical (two-season) climates, and advises its adherents to eat the foods produced in the climate where they live. Here in our part of scenic PA, tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, sweet potatoes, okra, eggplant, bananas, cashews, coconut, pistachios, mangos, figs, citrus, pineapple, artichokes, zucchini, and asparagus, not to mention most herbs and spices, coffee, black and green tea, herb teas, chocolate, and frozen foods, among many others, are banned. Which means that even though your garden here in PA is bursting with asparagus, tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers, you’re not supposed to eat them. The reverse would be true if you lived in a tropical climate. What you should eat if you’re a native of India, Guatemala or Mississippi who moves to Vermont, I have no idea. 

Has this helped, or simply confused the issue even further? If I’m missing any categories, please fill me in!

                      ‘Til next time,


Vegetarians beware! November 26, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here, with a warning to all vegetarians: beware omega-3s. Now that the powerful health benefits of omega-3s have been recognized, food manufacturers are putting them in everything. And for most people, that’s a good thing. But not for us.

Just today, I was in my local grocery and saw that there was a sale on Otria dips, which are made with Greek yogurt and are thus a far healthier choice for the dip-addicted our friend Ben than other fatty, calorie-laden options. I was enthusiastically adding them to my shopping bag when I caught sight of the ominous words “With Omega-3s.”

As always, this set off alarms, so I quickly flipped the container and read the ingredients list. Sure enough, the omega-3s came from menhaden fish oil. They almost always do. To add insult to injury, the container had a bold warning: “Contains eggs and milk.” Uh, how about “Contains fish oil”?! Sigh. Guess I’ll be making my own Greek yogurt dips for OFB.

I’ve even found omega-3s from fish oil in milk. It’s amazing what the food industry will add them to. And I’ve yet to see any ingredients list that includes omega-3s from plant sources.

So fellow vegetarians, look sharp: If the label says “omega-3s,” put that package down and walk away. Somewhere, a fish will thank you.

         ‘Til next time,


A place for fast food. December 19, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in chickens, homesteading, Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Last night, I rushed home after a busy day of visits and errands. My mission, should I choose to accept it: to make a hot, delicious supper for six people in less than an hour. To say that this was stressful is an understatement, but I was undaunted: I knew I could do it, thanks to modern technology.

Armed with cans of black beans and crushed tomatoes, and several bags of various salad combinations, supper was a snap: Saute several diced onions and green peppers in olive oil with black mustardseed, cumin, oregano, lemon pepper, and Trocomare; toss in a huge can or two of black beans and a big can of crushed tomatoes; add some veggie stock and hot fresh salsa (two of my other favorite grocery convenience foods) and a big splash of lemon juice (I like bottled Key lemon juice); stir, mash, stir, and allow to mellow on low heat. Meanwhile, mix bags of Romaine lettuce and baby greens, add a chopped orange bell pepper, crumbled feta cheese, pepitas, olives, hard-boiled eggs, and scallions. Our friend Carolyn provided salad dressings and hot cornbread, and her brother Rudy brought wine. We brought sour cream and shredded cheese (yet another convenience food) for the soup, and before we knew it, the six of us were sitting down to a delicious dinner.

There are many arguments against prepared foods, and one of them is price. If you’re on a budget like us, spending big bucks for convenience is usually just plain stupid. We have friends who wouldn’t dream of buying canned beans when they could soak a bag of dried beans overnight and cook them for pennies a serving. We have friends we’ve never seen open a bag of prepared salad mix.

I say, keep your eyes open. I patronize a local grocery that often puts greens on sale for 99 cents a package (down from $3.99, and still perfectly fresh). Often, I’ve bought organic baby arugula, baby spinach, and many a salad mix for 99 cents when a head of chemically-grown iceberg lettuce was going for over two dollars. The same store has a “three for $5.99” section where I’ve bought packages of locally-grown apples, pears, tomatoes, green beans, sweet onions, mushrooms, garlic, new potatoes, sweet potatoes, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and many another yummy veggie or fruit for a fraction of the price in other stores. They often have big discounts on canned beans, tomato products, and dried pasta, as does another local grocery, so I compare and stock up.

I do consider myself a from-scratch cook. I use basic ingredients, not mixes. I don’t buy fast-food meals from drive-by stores like Mickey D’s or KFC. But I feel no shame about using canned, frozen, and dried whole foods when they’re reasonably priced and save me time.

All this came to mind when I received an e-mail with an attachment for an article called “In Praise of Fast Food” by Rachel Laudan in The Gastronomica Reader, excerpted by The Utne Reader (http://www.utne.com/). Ms. Laudan’s reasons for supporting fast food are different from mine—I suggest you read her article and draw your own conclusions—but the article strongly brought to light the dichotomy between today’s slow-food locavores and the rest of us.

I mention this simply because I often think of the past in terms of creating convenience without guilt. Which is to say, everyone viewed time-saving and shelf life as untarnished positive developments before modern storage, shipping, and globalization made fresh food universally available year-round.

Think back with me to this era of seasonal abundance and seasonal scarcity for a moment. Imagine the thrill of canning or freezing food so it would keep until you needed it! Imagine pickling or preserving food so you could eat it out of season! Imagine making luscious white bread and using white sugar without even a clue about calories or health issues! Imagine buying butter from the store instead of having to churn your own! Imagine  the joy of welcoming new developments without ever once thinking, “Is this bad for me?”

To me, this period—roughly from the mid-1800s through the mid-1900s—was The Age of Innocence. The age where we could enjoy food without worrying about its consequences on our health, simply because, with the sole exceptions of gout and obesity, no one had a clue that food was other than healthful. If it tasted good, it was good, end of story.

I can see housewives rejoicing over white flour that didn’t quickly go rancid like whole-grain flours (in the pre-refrigeration era), eggs and dairy products delivered fresh to your door or sitting chilled and conveniently packaged in the refrigerated section of the grocery, canned and frozen foods that stayed good practically forever so you could stock your pantry and freezer and just grab what you needed. I can see them celebrating cake mixes, tea bags, bagged bread, sugar and salt that stayed granular rather than clumping, dried herbs and spices. I can see it all.

Ms. Laudan points out in “In Praise of Fast Food” that the glory days of fresh, seasonal, from-scratch eating were only glorious for the wealthy, who could afford to buy all the food that the peasants produced, leaving them to try to get by on scraps and shavings. She didn’t add, but I will, that in bad years, even the wealthy went hungry as a result of crop failures, and everyone else pretty much starved.

And we’re not just talking about the Middle Ages here. Much as I loved Little Women as a girl—it was probably my favorite book—I was shocked and haunted by the March family’s obvious hunger and lack of even common necessities during the brutal winter that opens the book. Pre-convenience foods, the larder often was empty.

To me, eating locally produced produce and foods that support our neighbors and our local economy seems an appropriate and moral thing to do from every perspective. After all, if someone in my area wanted an expert editing job, I’d certainly appreciate it if they came to me rather than outsourcing their work to New York or L.A. In turn, I could put the money they paid me into other local enterprises, and with everyone’s cooperation, our little community might become more self-sustaining.

But I agree with Ms. Laudan that it’s a luxury, just as my being a vegetarian is a luxury, made possible by an abundance of delicious produce, dairy products, and grains provided daily to our grocery stores by modern technology. I can take the moral high road only because my choice is supported by an abundance of resources, from farmers’ markets and organic CSAs to health-food stores and groceries that stock local products.

Were it not for them, I would be forced to resort to the full range of my omnivore inheritance or starve: eating the squirrels in our trees as well as the nuts that fall from them, raising chickens to butcher instead of coddling them through their long lives and gratefully enjoying their eggs, roaming the countryside in search of edible roots, herbs, shoots, berries, mushrooms, and greens to supplement what I could raise at home. Trying to barter eggs, preserves, salsa, or spaghetti sauce for enough of local farmers’ wheat and corn to provide our friend Ben and me with bread and the chickens with feed. Praying that someone nearby would grow dried beans to take the rest of us through the year, and that the dairy farmers could give us milk, butter, and cheese in return for money or barter.

And what if you didn’t live in farm country like we do? What if you didn’t own a grain mill, yogurt-maker, butter churn, or canning equipment? What if you didn’t have the time to use them if you did own them, because you had a family and (at least one) full-time job? 

No, you’ll never see me in a Dunkin’ Donuts, Wendy’s, Chick-Fil-A, or Taco Bell, or spot our little red VW Golf in the drive-up line. But yes, I am grateful every day for the fresh, pre-bagged, canned, frozen, juiced, and ground products that make it possible to cook delicious, healthy meals every time without spending all day, every day, trying to make it happen.

          ‘Til next time,