I’ve known people who have taken pride in their dislike of vegetables and their unwillingness to eat them. I understand the dislike, but not the unwillingness, especially in the case of a parent; it’s bad enough to indulge such an immature attitude, but to pass it on to one’s kids with an impish smirk is criminal. I grew up not having to eat too many vegetables, and I hardly craved them when I first left home, but over the years I’ve learned to enjoy many of them and tolerate most of the rest. I allow myself one dislike, namely okra, but that is mostly for the sake of a family joke; if I were served okra at a friend’s house, I would eat it without complaining and without any unhappiness.
Part of the reason my vegetable universe has expanded over the years is that we were determined that our kids would not develop their own quirky food dislikes, and so fed them a broad range of vegetable dishes that we might not have been inclined to make just for ourselves. Occasionally I was surprised by how much I enjoyed one, but mostly I learned to appreciate them as good food—food that didn’t excite my palate, maybe, but good food nonetheless.
That twenty-year project was good preparation for life on the homestead, because the most wholesome, cheapest, and easiest to produce food is found in broad swaths of the vegetable spectrum that are seldom visited by urban dwellers who don’t keep a garden. Former rarities that are becoming a regular fixture on our menu include yellow squash, zucchini, cucumbers, greens (kale, mustard, collards), green beans, sweet potatoes, and winter squash. We used to eat tomatoes regularly, but now they are on the table every lunch and supper during the harvest. Likewise, salad is a frequent side and often the entire meal when the romaine and green leaf lettuce are producing.
Although vegetables figure prominently, the real shift has been from eating what we like to liking what we have to eat, or at the least being grateful for and appreciating what we have to eat. We’ve learned to take joy in fresh milk and the things we can make from it because we have a lot of it. Beef is more prominent (e.g. we load our grill with steaks every week or two) because we intend to slaughter a cow every year, putting around 500lbs of beef into our freezer. Chicken is somewhat less prominent (and boneless chicken breasts, once a fixture, are gone entirely) because we don’t care to raise and process more than fifty for the year’s eating; what chicken we eat is usually stewed or slow-roasted, partly for the sake of tenderness and partly for ease of preparation.
Ease of preparation is also a factor in our shifting diet. Debbie and Maggie already work very hard in the kitchen because so much of what we eat is made from scratch, so complicated dishes have gone off the menu and we’re always looking for further simplifications. The result is not bland or boring, quite the reverse; once the elegant overlaid flavors are removed, it becomes easier to appreciate the taste of the basic ingredients. Myself, I look forward to the prospect of a heaping helping of well-cooked kale flavored with a bit of pork or ham, or one more plate of sliced tomatoes, and I’m ecstatic about how bountiful this year’s potato patch is shaping up to be.
Meanwhile we continue to lose our taste for prepared and processed food. Not much of it shows up in the grocery cart, in large part because we balk at the idea of paying so much for so little, knowing that basic ingredients are so cheap. Hot dogs are a good example; we still buy them sometimes when they are on sale, mostly because I love them, but we can only stand to eat the high quality version (for us, Hebrew Nationals), and even at sale prices we can eat eight dollars worth of those at one sitting.
We are also increasingly aware that processed and prepared food is engineered with consumption in mind, i.e. it is designed to inflame your appetite without satisfying your hunger. We’re often surprised at how we won’t want an extra helping of even our favorite foods, because what we’ve already eaten is enough; on the other hand, the only thing that seems to keep us from eating yet more of fast-food pizza or burgers or french fries or ice cream is an aching belly.