Editor’s Note: We’ve gone on a search-and-rescue mission to find amazing stories and essays published in earlier print editions of Rootstock. Today’s throwback, “Food Wisdom and the Feminine: Soul Food from a Farm Girl” was written by Sarah Holm for the Fall 2010 edition of Rootstock.
Finished with my garden, I picked up my basket filled with organic dill and took my little brother by the hand. As I tasted a piece of the delicate leaves, I reflected on how fortunate I was to have a farm and garden where I can raise my own ingredients. Then, after considering our culture of convenience, I saw how blessed I am to simply know how to cook.
I suppose women became the food-makers because it is simply the continuation of their role as life-givers. A woman gives life through birth, then nurtures it with her own body, then continues to sustain it by putting dinner on the table.
I do not want to discredit the men who farm. I am very glad for my father’s help and would not want to farm without him, but it is simply a fact that women are farmers too. I should know—I farm with five younger sisters.
It is encouraging for me to see Organic Valley supporting women farmers because in the past few decades our traditional role in “putting dinner on the table” has been demeaned and nearly lost. Working in the fields, gardening, canning, and cooking dinner day in and day out is too often looked at as lowly work. There is no doubt that it is hard work, but this responsibility does not chain a woman—it gives her power.
The decisions a woman makes about how and what she raises and grows, and how and what she feeds herself and those she loves reverberates through everything. The consequences of her actions and good farming practices touch everything from her health and the health of her family, the land and environment, and even political policy. Sometimes changing the world starts at home with a garden and a home-cooked meal.
In a time where everything is taken from a package and nobody knows what food even is anymore (“How do they make milk, Mom?”), it is more important than ever that women reclaim their part in feeding the world. Almost as sad as the disappearance of family farms is how women have, over the last half-century, given up their place in the kitchen and surrendered it to food companies. Food does not simply recharge a person’s batteries—it shapes their life. What greater thing can you do for someone than feed them? If you love someone, give them food that nourishes their body and soul, food that is grown responsibly, and food that benefits the world.
The skill of being able to take fresh ingredients, including live animals, and turn them into a meal is becoming a rarity. Many of my friends would be clueless as to what to do if you gave them a frozen roast from the freezer, let alone a live chicken. My peers sometimes ask me how I can stand to eat my cows, animals I have nurtured from birth. It’s true that when I started farming, this was hard for me, but now I struggle to eat animals I have not raised. How would I know what the animal had eaten, whether it had a good life? I personally feel it would be cutting corners to purchase meat without a name, neatly cut into pieces and looking like food rather than a living animal. I could not think myself compassionate for doing so.
Just as women are given the power of life through birth, I have the power of life and death given to me through farming. One day my little sister came to me with a hurt chicken. It was quite young, just beginning to fatten up, and had only grown its adult feathers a week ago. I held her and knew there was nothing I could do for her. I was sad for her to die at such a young age, but living the farm life I understand that death is part of life and that this chicken would sustain my family. I killed her, cleaned the carcass, and began cooking it before I had even had breakfast. That was the morning that I began to comprehend the importance of the farm women who pursue with tenacity their task of feeding the world a few people at a time.
Human beings’ lives revolve around food. While some in our culture seek to escape this endless pursuit of the next meal, the perspective of this young farm woman is, “This is as it should be.” If you can understand food—the search for it, the responsible way to raise it, how it affects our health and culture, why it is so important—then you understand the entire history of the human race. Once we understand the history of food, and how we are to live in harmony with the entire ecological system of the world, we can then understand how to improve the future for humans across the world. Ending starvation, ensuring cultures that promote long, healthy lives, and creating environments where civilization and agriculture reside in symbiosis with nature can all begin when a woman nurses her child, milks a cow, raises vegetables, sells food at a farmer’s market, or cooks a real meal for someone. May women everywhere realize what they have been entrusted with: Women are to feed the world—not only its belly, but its very soul.