Real Food Is Soul Food

Real Food is old and traditional. It’s sustainably grown, organic, and local. And it nourishes the soul as well as the body.

That’s because finding, cooking, and eating Real Food is a craft. I once heard that cooking was the only art form that uses all five senses. It engages the whole person, and as such rewards the whole person. Preparing Real Food isn’t just about good nutrition or ethics. It’s about becoming the people we are meant to be, becoming more fully human.

Why do I think Real Food is ennobling?

Firstly, because it helps us be producers rather than mere consumers. From the beginning, the story of Real Food is one of individual agency and competence. You save a seed, sprout it, plant it, nourish it, watch it grow, harvest it, prepare it, and then feed yourself and your loved ones a nutrient-dense meal. You can take pride in that. Even if you don’t grow your own food or care for the animals that feed you, you still experience the empowerment of finding that local source of raw milk or the best deal on eggs from pastured hens. You still experience the thrill of savoring perfectly ripe tomatoes, of eating cucumbers absent wax, of mastering traditional food preparation techniques. You can still know the joy of producing something tangible of value.

It’s the joy of work — the experience of the fruits of our labor, of meaning. Even in 1776 when Adam Smith wrote The Wealth of Nations, he saw what the coming tide of industrialization would mean. He saw how it would separate us from meaningful work and turn us into cogs in a machine, how it would take a nation of empowered producers and turn them into dependent consumers. And most importantly, he saw how this would affect our virtue as a people. Of the worker doing dull, repetitive jobs, he wrote: “The torpor of his mind renders him not only incapable of relishing or bearing a part in any rational conversation, but of conceiving any generous, noble, or tender sentiment, and consequently of forming any just judgment concerning many even of the ordinary duties of private life.”

In contrast, work at this level — the level of the craftsman — requires virtue. When it comes to eating Real Food, a host of virtues comes to mind:

Secondly, I believe Real Food is ennobling because it is beautiful. Of course, I love Wendell Berry, and he once wrote, “If a thing is ugly, I think we need to ask questions about it. How did it get that way? What else is wrong?”  While that applies to many aspects of our life, it can particularly apply to Real Food. What could be uglier than chicken nuggets dipped in a high-fructose laden yellow vinegar sauce that passes for mustard? Oh wait! I know! The factory farm that produced those chicken nuggets. Everything about industrialized food production is ugly. That is a tell-tale sign that something is painfully, terribly wrong.

On the other hand, Real Food conjures up pastoral images of dairy farmers sending their cows out to fields of lush green grass. Real Food is as appealing to the eye as it is to the palette.

I don’t think I need to explain why Beauty itself is ennobling, but for those who want me to connect the dots, the two quotations that leap to mind first are these:

“Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” ~from Phillipians 4:8

and

“Beauty will save the world.” ~Fyodor Doestoevsky

In otherwords, God is beautiful, and encountering Beauty is a way to experience the divine. What could possibly be more ennobling than that?

I want to hear your thoughts about this! What virtues do you think eating Real Food inspires in you?

In addition to being much more philosophical than my usual posts, this post is also part of today’s Real Food Wednesday blog carnival, hosted by Kelly The Kitchen Kop.

(photo by abbyladybug)

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I am a passionate advocate for REAL FOOD -- food that's sustainable, organic, local, and traditionally-prepared according to the wisdom of our ancestors. I'm also an author and a nutrition educator. I enjoy playing in the rain, a good bottle of Caol Ila scotch, curling up with a page-turning book, sunbathing on my hammock, and watching my three children explore their world.
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21 Responses to Real Food Is Soul Food
  1. Catherine
    June 24, 2009 | 11:26 am

    I love seeing cows on pasture these days. Right now the green is so vibrant and the grass so lush. Every time I drive up the farm lane way there is a great satisfaction of knowing that my food is coming from such a nutrient rich place. Fantastic post.

    Catherine

  2. Shannon
    June 24, 2009 | 12:20 pm

    It is ironic that I just checked my blog reader and found your post. I was just getting ready to sit down to write a post about not becoming self-righteous when being a locavore or real foodie.

    Shannon

  3. Millie
    June 24, 2009 | 12:52 pm

    Helping my family make the conversion to real/whole/traditional foods is carrying over into other aspects. I think alot about our cleaning products and how not only what we put into our bodies but into our environments can affect our health.
    I am enjoying helping my daughters realize the importance of eating real food. I have to say that the first glass of raw milk involved alot of conversation on my part with my 12 year old to convince her that milk is supposed to come directly from a cow not the grocery store. She kept asking ‘but what did they do to it?’ She was sure that it had to be processed in order for it to be okay for us to drink. She wouldn’t admit that she loved the taste of it but she did ask for a second glass.
    Thanks for a thought provoking post.

    Millie

  4. Meagan
    June 24, 2009 | 1:13 pm

    I have just recently found your blog and I love it! You stand for something that I have been learning and researching- Real Food, a subject becoming so near and dear to my heart. I truly enjoy reading your articles! Keep the good stuff coming :) I agree with you, Real Food is the way GOD made it. It’s almost like the Food Industry is trying to push God out of the equation as well?

    Meagan

  5. KristenM
    June 24, 2009 | 1:54 pm

    Meagan — Glad you like it here! Feel free to stick around. I love all the great discussion that goes on in the comments.

    Millie — You’re welcome. How funny about your 12 year old. Thankfully, my boys are young and have never known anything else, so they don’t offer any real resistance.

    Shannon — I hope you don’t think this post is self-righteous! My goal was to simply put down some thoughts I’d been having about the nature of beauty and goodness (and how even something as mundane as what we eat can reflect and strengthen our values).

    Catherine — Lucky you! We used to live by ranch lands and regularly passed cows on pasture (along with goats, sheep, and deer). My oldest boy LOVED stopping to say HI to the cows on our way someplace. It was always a special treat, a reward for his good behavior. Now places like that are generally out of our way, and I miss it!

  6. Shannon
    June 24, 2009 | 2:16 pm

    Kristen – No, I don’t think this post is self-righteous, but rather points to the beauty of what God created. I do think it is easy for all of us to become self-righteous or even “religious” in our locavore/real foody ways.

    I love the beauty found in agriculture. Their is a reason most of the parables are written with an agrarian bent. Perhaps we are meant to be agrarians.

    Shannon

  7. dina
    June 24, 2009 | 3:44 pm

    My great-grandmother died before I was born. She was a professional cook – for a “sanitorium” in the mid-West, my great-grandfather was the dairyman for the sanitorium. My Grammy (their daughter-in-law) would reminisce about how beautiful a thing it was to watch them do their thing – how amazing the food was – they always had a HUGE garden, and how much it impacted her and her lifestyle choices. (My Grammy was one of the first “granola girls” out there! :)

    I *LOVE* teaching my daughter things that my great-grandmother taught my Grammy, who in turn taught me. I love the connection that happens in the garden, collecting the eggs, reconveneing in the kitchen – and creating art.

    I *LOVE* teaching my daughter how to preserve food. I adore that some of my canning jars have been handed down several generations now.

    I *LOVE* that my son cares how great fresh and straight out of the yard is compared to the alternatives. I love that he’s connecting the dots and seeing how beneficial being a wise steward of our resources is.

    What more beauty could there be?

  8. Bonnie
    June 24, 2009 | 4:44 pm

    This is an absolutely lovely post. I love the way you worded this.

    The most important aspect of real food is that it requires that I remind myself WHY I eat–I am eating for many reasons and my choices with real food (or on occasion NOT real food) make me think about WHY I want to eat what I eat and ask myself what is that food doing for me. There’s a different thought process to eating.

    Bonnie

  9. Walter Jeffries
    June 24, 2009 | 5:59 pm

    I love real food because since I produced it I know it is good for me and my family. All the food scares, decades and even a century ago, convinced me we must produce our own food. It’s as simple as that. The better sensory quality, the taste, the act of growing it is all a bonus.

  10. Jen
    June 24, 2009 | 10:23 pm

    I don’t know if it’s fortunate or not, but I found a raw dairy and organic grocery source that delivers to my door weekly. Of course I am ecstatic to get raw milk, butter, and pastured eggs, after a year long search for a source. I researched, asked questions, and am extremely satisfied with the answers and the service. However I’ve never been to the farm. I have noticed though, how absolutely orange the egg yolks are right now, and how yellow the butter is, compared to what they were previously. In fact, I’m ordering extra raw butter to freeze for later, since it is so nutritious right now.

    We will be visiting a farm this weekend, and I’m so excited! Our CSA farm (which starts July 1st) has a great price on bulk strawberries, but you have to pick them up at the farm. I can’t wait to see where all our yummy produce will be coming from for the months ahead. I just know it will be beautiful! :)

  11. Elisabeth
    June 25, 2009 | 2:35 am

    I love this description of Real Food. It accords with mine. No, it is better!

    Talking about time and patience is deep. In other words, there is a financially unquantifiable element to Real Food.

    Industrialised society is sold to us as a convenience but it is about exploitation and degradation of the labour force and the natural world.

    There is an argument that farming should be a public service because our lives depend on it.

    I am going to London today for the Guild of Food Writers Awards to see if my short-listed blog, Real Food Lover, is going to win. Wish me luck!

    Elisabeth

  12. Crystal
    June 25, 2009 | 5:37 am

    Elisabeth – yes,I agree with you that”…… there is a financially unquantifiable element to Real Food.” And good luck with your blog Real Food Lover / I like your last post about brain food : )

  13. Cathy Payne
    June 25, 2009 | 8:47 am

    Very beautifully written, Kristen! I couldn’t agree more! Of course, real food promotes health and tastes better, too! There is a reason we drive for hours sometimes to pick up milk, beef, pork, poultry, or produce from our farmers. And the personal relationships we develop around meeting our co-producers, fellow consumers, around picking up food and sharing recipes and traditions is beyond priceless. Thank you for this great post!

    Cathy Payne

  14. Local Nourishment
    June 25, 2009 | 9:56 am

    I joke with my family that I take pride in being “plain as a mud fence” and that my only taste “is in my mouth.” I don’t keep a spotlessly clean or well decorated house. I’ve never really taken time to see the beauty in what I do, just get the groceries bought, get the meals made and get the food on the table. Plod through another day and collapse in bed.

    In the last few months of preparing Real Food, I have slowed down, looked, tasted, smelled, paid attention to presentation and really looked at what I do differently. I even find myself smiling at the grocery store, seeing all the amazing bounty laid out before me. People think I’m smiling at them, and smile back, or think I’m crazy, which I probably am.

    But thinking about food differently has added a dimension to my life that I’ve never experienced. And it’s not just food: it’s flowers, plants, animals, birds that eat the insects off the plants and sing me awake every morning. All of creation has become suddenly alive to me.

    Local Nourishment

  15. Kara
    June 26, 2009 | 1:37 pm

    I love the way you combine philosophy with food. What a beautiful post, and so true!

    Kara

  16. Chris
    June 30, 2009 | 8:21 pm

    My favorite gardening moment this year was in late February, when my just-turned-three son helped me plants peas. He was so enthusiastic about the task, watching and listening as I explained how close to plant the seeds. As we got to work he jumped up to say, “First we plant the seeds, then they grow, then we eat them!” Can you tell how proud this mama was that her little boy had made the connection?

    Beautiful post, Kristen. Thanks!

    Chris

  17. Sharon
    July 9, 2009 | 12:01 pm

    The virute of real food I discovered is ‘intimacy’ with the world and nurturing the spirit of life. Thank you for this great article and blog!
    Sharon in Seattle

  18. Abby
    August 16, 2009 | 3:29 pm

    Thanks for using my picture! I love this one.
    .-= Abby

  19. stephanie
    January 6, 2010 | 8:43 pm

    Wow, wow, wow. beautifully written. Amen to that. You have just put words to why I spend hours in my kitchen and garden and chook yard. Why I choose to toil over food instead of grabbing convenience foods from the freezer and pantry. (Not that my pantry or freezer contain any but you know what Im and referring to).

    I love the idea about asking a question of something that is ugly, why and how and what.

    And I love the concept that what I am doing is right in so many ways beyond good nutrition – character building, and according to the laws of nature instead of some man made law that is enforced over nature.

    Beautiful. Thankyou, you have made my day.

    Stephanie
    .-= stephanie´s last blog post …Cravings cured with lots of fat =-.

  20. Jamie
    February 24, 2011 | 5:02 pm

    Kristen! I loved this article! Thank you! I shared it all over facebook, and am loving reading about your work! Thank you dear Sister Goddess, for having this amazing resourceful website up and sharing your amazing knowledge of the nearly lost Art of Healthful Eating <3

  21. JeanneR
    November 16, 2012 | 12:24 pm

    So true, lovely post!

    Our natural instincts is to look for beauty. It was, still is, the fastest way for us to look for a strong and healthy partner. For hundreds of years this not only ensured a baby would survive but also thrive.

    It’s not so much the case anymore, but we are seeing the effects of poor nutrition and overconsumption from a food supply that has been managed strictly for mass production and big profits.

    I am constantly researching how my family needs to eat, particularly in how food nourishes our DNA. I eat as healthy as I can now for myself, my family, and my future grandkids.

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Who Am I?

My name is Kristen Michaelis. I'm a nutrition educator, author, and mother of three. I adore hats, happy skirts, horizons full of storm clouds, the full-bodied feel of wind as I ride motorcylces, reading in my hammock, and a hearty shot of Caol Ila scotch. I'm also a rebel with a cause.
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