I was a teenager the first time I ever tasted a carrot pulled straight from the ground in which it grew. It took me a minute to muster the courage since dirt was always the thing mom violently scrubbed from the bottom of my bare feet like it was a fungus. We were at my aunt and uncle’s home on sprawling county acres with a view of the snowy mountain peaks in the distance. They only lived a short 7-minute drive from our small corner lot in town, but it seemed like an adventure to go there, like we were stepping back into another time where men played in their woodshops and women assembled bouquets from the wildflowers that lined the property.
The carrots were delicious—like nothing I’d ever tasted. Compared to our store-bought carrots these were hairy and grew in odd shapes, like deeply arthritic fingers, but they tasted sweet and earthy. I walked along the tidy garden rows and pulled up one after another, my mouth a buzzsaw working against the crisp roots.
In the summer we bought corn from roadside stands and blueberries from u-pick farms, but most of our food was harvested from a fluorescent-lit, big-box grocery where high school kids bagged our food for us. They even offered a drive-through pick-up service. Clearly, I grew up in the golden era of TV dinners, powdered cheese, and microwaves—a time when convenience trumped quality every time.
The Family Tree
It took the birth of my daughter to change this worldview I had gleaned from a life of processed, prepackaged and pesticide-ridden vegetables. Suddenly, everywhere I turned, I was warned that plastic containers were leaching chemicals into her baby food, that I should peel all non-organic fruits, and that baby carrots are soaked in bleach to retain their “freshness.” According to the news, we should fear the presumably healthy foods as much as potato chips and glazed donuts.
But changing my worldview was much easier than changing my daughter’s mind about vegetables, who at age 3 declared she had a “food allergy” to all things fresh, green or leafy.“I’m allergic to salad,” she said in all seriousness. “But it will go away when I’m 5.”
At 7, my daughter was still afflicted by her allergy. In fact, it encompassed all vegetables with the exception of canned green beans, poison-laced baby carrots, and “brown beans” (better known as pork-and-beans, which I’m told by her pediatrician, “doesn’t count”).
A Treasure Box
I tried introducing new foods to my daughter, but unless it was fried, steeped in sugar or altogether unrecognizable as food (hello, dinosaur-shaped nuggets), she wasn’t having it. Uninterested in having a food fight with my child, I did the best I could. I bought stock in the fruits she’d eat—inevitably only seasonal and expensive varieties like blackberries, raspberries and cherries—and kept challenging her (okay, bribing her) to at least try new foods.
Then a friend of mine started a farm box home delivery service called “Local Organic Moms,” or “LOMs” for short. I could choose which local organic produce would appear in a crate on my porch each week. It isn’t cheap, but as I get older, I’m realizing that none of the best things are. The first day our crate arrived, my daughter ran to it and tore off a piece of the living lettuce and stuffed it in her mouth. She didn’t gag. She didn’t die. In fact, she liked it.
After sampling a piece, I realized why: all this time I’ve been eating—and offering my child—the equivalent of green cellophane. We ate the tomatoes like apples. My daughter peeled three carrots and buzz-sawed them down with an enthusiasm she usually reserves for cheese puffs.
Now, each week the farm box appears on our door, my daughter unpacks the items, sampling and sorting. Some of the items were so unfamiliar to our limited palate we had to Google it. I discovered purple potatoes and about 10 varieties of sprouts. I rediscovered my love of carrots—real carrots, purple, white, yellow or otherwise, in all their crazy shapes and sizes.
Don’t get me wrong, my daughter hasn’t given up on pressed fruit and yellow #5. We aren’t about to build a container garden or launch a raw-food diet. But we are opening our lives to the natural beauty of a simpler, less processed way of living. We’re supporting our local farmers, our friend’s business and a healthier lifestyle. Perhaps like bike commuting, composting, and pressing coffee, we’re finally moving away from convenience and back from whence we came: a place of quality and simplicity. If so, it feels right—natural even.
Paula, I love watching you and your family. I miss seeing your show, I watched you everyday. My son lives in Charleston S.C. He took me to the Lady & Sons to eat. Oh my goodness! People are always telling me that I look just like the cooking lady Paula Deen. I always tell them that you are my hero. May God Bless You
Mary Ann Tharp in A Summer of Burgers on August 15, 2014 at 10:48 pm
Add a few spoonfuls of parmesan cheese to the flour and cornmeal breading and it kicks the tomatoes up another notch. Bev
in Crispy Fried Green Tomatoes on August 15, 2014 at 10:33 am
I just bought Paula's Peach Salad Dressing and wondered if anyone has a good recipe that they use it in?
Melissa in Taste Testing 101 on August 13, 2014 at 8:36 am
Congrats Bobby. Loved the family picture miss you Paula on TV will be watching online. Jack is getting big. Looks like his mom but Matt aka moose has your face. Your eyes cheeks hair even falls to his face like yours except to the left. Good luck on your next venture. You give us other 60+ yr women strength to move on. Keep up the good work.
Carol Bryant in Love at Last on August 11, 2014 at 6:12 pm