Part of my experience in off-grid living has had nothing to do with the lack of community-provided utilities or alternative building designs, but with a change of diet – and I don’t mean a foolish deprivation of food or endless calorie counting or obsessive weighing on a scale. Instead, I’ve been more active and I'm eating much healthier foods. More to the point, I’ve also become more conscious of when I eat meals, what I eat, where my food comes from, how it’s processed, why it was grown or raised as it was, and who profited from the sale of it. These have become very important questions to ask whenever I’m at the grocery store, ordering at a restaurant, or preparing a meal at home.
A big part of off-grid sustainable living includes planting a garden and growing your own food. In an Earthship, the indoor planter not only provides a place to grow beautiful decorative plants, but also organic edible plants and herbs. This type of garden is watered by the gray water system (water that flows from the kitchen sink, bathroom sink, bathtub, and washing machine), and it provides humidity for the home, something that’s important in the dry desert climate. The outdoor garden is then irrigated by the gray water overflow and includes crops that don’t grow as well indoors. By eating food you grow yourself, you are not only in control over what you plant, but how it’s fertilized and when it’s harvested – your organic tomatoes, for example, can be picked when they’re actually ripe rather than while they’re still green, making them much more flavorful.
My friend who has opened her home to me is a vegetarian and has all but banished from her kitchen virtually all processed foods and meat, with the exception of an occasional chicken dish. Our healthy meals are made from scratch with care and intention. There are no sodas or chips for snacks, no burgers and fries, no fast food, no frozen meals, and no microwave cooking.
Whenever possible, everything prepared in this Earthship kitchen is all natural and organically grown on local farms. My friend buys eggs from her sister who raises the most beautiful free-range hens I’ve ever seen. She avoids products containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs), gluten, large amounts of sodium and sugar, or corn products such as high fructose corn syrup. Her youngest son even reads the labels to make sure such offensive foods don’t make it into the grocery cart.
So in addition to eating healthier, I’ve learned a few things about the food I eat:
When do I eat? – I was raised in a household where we ate on a schedule. Lunches at school were scheduled in shifts and we ate at the allotted time. When I was an hourly worker, I punched a time clock in and out for lunch, so my mealtime was also typically scheduled. For most of my life, I ate when others told me it was time to eat, rarely just when I was hungry. Now, mealtime occurs whenever my tummy alerts me with a little rumble when it’s time to recharge. It’s also important to note here that once I cut out all the junk food from my diet, the tummy rumbling is now minimal and I’ve noticed an incredible difference in the amount of energy I feel.
What do I eat? – Most people answer this question with a simple, “Whatever tastes good.” However, we all know that everything that tastes good isn’t necessarily good for us. Free-range, all-natural, certified organic, and locally grown are the current buzz words to look for on package labeling. Whether something is considered lean or fat-free is only part of the picture, and anything labeled “diet” raises a huge red flag warning consumers that it’s loaded with chemicals for artificial flavor. I avoid that type of food at all costs.
Where does my food comes from? – When I do eat meat, I wonder how the cow lived. Was it allowed to roam freely in a pasture and graze on grass as is natural for the cow, or was it confined to a “cow lot” where it stood ankle deep in its own feces all day, barely able to move due to the overly cramped conditions? What about the chickens? Were they allowed to scratch outside in the sunlight and given enough space to grow at a normal rate? Or where they locked up in dark, over-crowded chicken houses. Were they genetically engineered to make them grow so fast that their bones couldn’t keep up with their abnormal weight? I was horrified after watching a few documentaries about how food that’s not part of the animals’ normal diet was fed to them merely to cheaply fatten them up. These economic strategies seem to support a total disregard for their customers’ health and nutritional needs while promoting a grotesquely inhumane treatment of the animals – all in the guise of offering a better product, but in reality is merely to garner more profits. Bottom line: greed.
How is my food processed and why? – This question is an extension of the previous one, but applies more specifically to food I eat in a restaurant rather than the food I purchase to prepare at home. I have less control in this area than in the grocery store unless I ask the waiters or waitresses an endless stream of questions, the answers to which they seldom know. Fortunately, I have found that some of the restaurants in town boast serving free-range beef or bison from local ranches and this is proudly listed on their menus, as is their source of chicken and eggs. This is helpful and appreciated.
Who profited from the sale of the food I eat? – There is a large movement to “buy locally.” I try to do this as much as possible because there are many reasons to support this campaign. First and foremost, the food is typically fresher than purchases made at the grocery store. Buying food from local farmers helps people in my region to earn a living, which helps them make purchases in town, which supports local retail stores, which enables those shop owners to hire more employees, which in turn enables them to spend their paychecks in town, and so on and so on. The invasion of the super retail chains into small town America has put many small local businesses out of business. The same can be said of the agricultural conglomerates who have gobbled up many of the smaller farms, hindering quality and control. Once again, greedy corporate America has ruined another vanishing American institution – the family farm.
Taking all of this into account, I must note that I am voicing my own personal opinion about the food industry in general, as is my right under the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America. I am not intentionally attempting to slander any particular corporation, nor am I advocating the boycott of products of any particular industry. By stating my own concerns, I am merely encouraging people to carefully read the labels on the packages of food that they purchase, become more fully aware of what ingredients they will be putting into their bodies as a result, and to make their own informed choices about what they eat.
There are many resources available to learn more about selecting meats and vegetables to suite your comfort level, but I've listed only two here (information on grass-fed food and one of the many documentaries). I hope that my readers will explore more educational information about the food we eat. If anyone would like to share additional resources here, please include links in your comments.