I’ve been canning for about three years now. During that time, I get looks of puzzlement when people ask me what my hobbies are and I reply “canning”. People tend to relate canning to frugality and most of them have decided that canning just doesn’t save enough money for the time and effort it takes.
I don’t do it for the frugality, though I think I actually spend less on the actual ingredients and tools than I would on buying the equivalents, I do it for a number of reasons.
1. I just don’t trust our food supply very much.
Apparently, my mother canned foods before I was born. (I didn’t find out until a few years ago, when I announced I was starting to can and she said, “Oh, I used to do that, but I stopped”. There was a time when people stopped preserving their own foods, because it was just easier to buy those same things they canned at the local store. Back then, most foods that were processed in the grocery store, were processed the same way it was done at home. But gradually, industrial food processors found ways to make things cheaper and more profitable for themselves. Most of these changes were not to enhance either the nutrition or the quality of our food.
Today, we find ourselves in a supermarket with very little actual variety. The shelves are filled with foods, but they are mainly wheat, corn or soy. Canned foods are full of sodium and preservatives and while you can find versions that aren’t, you still have no idea how the ingredients were grown or processed.
I’ve had my share of food poisoning from restaurants, I’ve read the news reports of contaminated foods: spinach, peanuts, turkey, cantaloupe. All of the reports are from large industrialized factories or farms. And while the FDA is *supposed* to protect our food supply, it does a very poor job of it.
Most industrialized farms will spray pesticides as a matter of course through the growing season to discourage pests. This means that many of the vegetables offered for sale at supermarkets have had pesticides applied to the fields on a regular basis, whether its necessary or not. Organic farms, may still utilize pesticides, but they must be made from organic materials. Many organic farms utilize ways to discourage pests rather than using pesticides. Studies show that organically raised vegetables have a much lower incidence of pesticide residue than industrialized raised vegetables.
Many local farms are not certified organic. Many of them practice sustainable farming, utilizing organic practices and not spraying vegetables with pesticides, organic or not. They will plant cover crops, or crops that will lure insects to them, along with other techniques. Other local farms will practice integrated pest management, and ecological approach to pest control that uses few or no pesticides. The orchard where I buy my seconds from practices integrated pest management. Its not perfect, but I balance the taste, nutrition and price against the fact that they will use pesticides as a last resort and for the time being I’m comfortable with that.
2. Better Nutrition and Flavor
Foods in our grocery store, be they fresh, frozen or processed, typically travel a lot of miles. They are taken by truck to a factory which may or may not be in the same state they were grown in. After that they are transported once again to your local store. Most vegetables grown in the United States are no longer grown for flavor or nutrition. They have been bred for transportation.
Fruits and vegetables start losing their nutritional value from the moment they are picked. The longer it is between being picked at a farm and your eating it, the less nutrition is available. The same goes for flavor. This goes doubly for food that is picked before it is ripe and left to ripen during transport.
Locally grown and sold produce on the other hand, is grown for both flavor and nutrition. The food goes from farm to table much more quickly than then industrialized foods and I can capture the bursting flavor and nutrition when I preserve these foods.
3. Its a spiritual and meditative practice for me.
Might sound kind of corny, but thats okay. I really get to connect with the seasons when I do this and I have such an appreciation for food in its time. When strawberries come around, I eat them til I’m bursting and then I pick some more to freeze for winter. Instead of treating strawberries (or any vegetable or fruit) as a “ho hum, I’m getting them when I choose, its no big deal”. I look forward to each type, I eat my fill of them at that time and I preserve them for the winter. My canned and frozen foods take me back with each mouthful to the time and work and care I took when I preserved them in the first place.
So I get connected to the here and now and the seasons when I do this. Preserving can either be a community event with laughter and talking and connecting or it can be a silent meditation on the actual practice. For me both are spiritual and refreshing.
When I finish for the day and see physical results from what I have accomplished, I feel like I’ve really done something tangible. I can see my results now, and eat them later.
I also can get connected to my ancestors. The first time I fished out a garlic dill pickle out of the lacto fermentation cask and bit into it I literally cried. My grandmother made pickles when I was little. She died 30 years ago and when I bit into this pickle it brought all those memories right back. I don’t know whether my pickles were exactly like hers but the mouth memory was. When we teach preserving, preserve with our children and our families, we are passing on so much more than food.
So, while I think I’m saving some money, that’s not why I can. That’s a secondary goal for me. And if I’m paying a bit more, then at least I know that my food is tasty, delicious and nutritious without so many of the ingredients that industrialized food production tries to pass off as food.