Meanderings: Food, glorious food

Pete Korsching

Thanksgiving is just around the corner! A day of turkey, dressing, and mashed potatoes and gravy, accompanied by numerous side dishes, and pumpkin and pecan pie for dessert. Glorious food!

Food can indeed be glorious, and with our increased affluence, we have glorified food to new heights. We have books, magazines, and TV and radio programs on food and cooking, and TV networks with food as their sole purpose for existence. With all this attention on food, cooking and eating, one might assume that as a nation we are well-fed. Our farmers certainly are the most productive in the world, so our food is comparatively cheap and we export a large share of the food we produce. With such abundance, we tend to treat food like a disposable commodity easily replaced.

A few years back, Linda and I were on a cruise ship that provided endless buffets of culinary delights almost around the clock. One day we treated ourselves to the mid-afternoon buffet, which included a large selection of elaborate hors d’oeuvres and half-a-dozen desserts. As we sat down, the couple at the next table finished their main course and went back for dessert. Both returned with each of the available desserts, ate one bite of each, then got up and threw the rest away. To me, such deliberate wasting of food is wrong. Yet the Natural Resources Defense Council estimates that in the U.S., about 40 percent of food is wasted. This amounts to about 20 pounds per person annually and totals about $165 billion. Wasted food also adds considerably to greenhouse gases and climate change through wasted energy for food production, processing, preparation and disposal.

Such high levels of food waste are particularly inexcusable, because food security continues to be a problem for many Americans. For some it is obtaining food that is healthy and nutritious; for others it is simply getting enough food. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, about 20 percent of households lack reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable nutritious food. In Germany and in the early years here in the U.S., there were times when my family had little food. Except for a bit of extravagance on holidays, meals were simple. Inexpensive “delicacies” included fried pig brains, head cheese, blood sausage and what I disliked most but had to eat, milk soup. When land was available, we always had a garden. My mother did some canning, but she also worked outside the home, so her time was limited.

When possible, we also raised small animals for food. In Germany, we had a few geese. I sometimes was in charge of “herding” them to a field to feed and watching them so they did not wander off. It was always a terrifying experience, considering they were almost as tall as me and some were downright mean and vicious biters. More than once I had to run for it while being pursued by one of the geese, honking and flailing its wings.

On the farm in Nebraska we raised chickens. After moving to town we raised rabbits. It was my job to feed them and clean the pens. Over time I became attached to some of the rabbits, especially those raised from birth. Helping my father when it came time to butcher them was always a bit trying (rabbits are, after all, cute and cuddly).

Poor nutrition in children is sometimes blamed on insufficient time for preparing decent meals, especially if both parents work to support the family. For such families, children’s meals may consist of prepared or fast foods high in carbohydrates and calories, but low in needed nutrition. My sociological background leads me to sympathize with the parents’ plight, but my personal family background offers little empathy. When my sister and I were in grade school, both our parents worked - My father in construction and my mother washing dishes in the evening at a supper club, from 6 until midnight or later. Even with this schedule, she was always up early to fix us breakfast and see us off to catch the school bus. In the evening, she either prepared something for dinner before going to work or my father cooked dinner. Either way, we always had a fresh home-prepared meal.

As I was writing this column, my mouth watered just thinking about the upcoming feast. It also brought focus to the real meaning of the Thanksgiving celebration. In addition to the love and support of family and friends, I have much for which I am thankful. So if you are like me, with an abundance of the good things in life, then on this day let us give thanks for our good fortune and let us share some of that abundance with those who are less fortunate.

Oh, the words “food, glorious food?” They are from a song in a musical production of Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist. Early in the story, Oliver is in a workhouse with many other boys. The boys are always hungry because the workhouse staff provides them barely enough food to survive. One day, Oliver is egged on by the other boys to ask for an additional helping. We all know the outcome (If you do not, you really should read the book!).

(Pete Korsching is a Nevada resident and a freelance columnist for the Nevada Journal.)