Archive | February, 2012


15 Feb

Question: Have you ever grown your own food? Has that changed the eating experience?

Answer: Yes!

Next to breathing, eating is perhaps the most essential of all human activities, and one with which much of social life is entwined.  Food is not just a topic worthy of inquiry in its own right; food is a universal medium that illuminates a wide range of other cultural practices.  Concern for food affordability and availability has sparked interest in alternative means for obtaining food.  Many citizens now inhabiting urban landscapes are pushed further away from food production, which disallows ones connection to food and the environment.  The cultivation of a food garden is one of the ways in which we can gain a stronger connection to food and a profound eating experience.  Pollan doesn’t necessarily discuss individual gardening, but at a deeper level, being able to grow, hunt and forage one’s own food seems to be the utopian goal.

Irrespective of where we come from in the world, it seems that the presence of living things makes us feel good (Pretty, 2004).  Gardens and gardening are not just ways to grow food or enjoy the calming effect of beautiful green spaces, they are also ways to build and maintain relationships with places and people (Kortright, 2007).  Many gardeners seem to value the produce they grow as much or more for its social value than for its contribution to their and their families’ subsistence, although there is something so gratifying and fulfilling about eating food that you have grown and taking it directly from the plant with which you watched grow.  In many cases gardens may not make a large contribution to subsistence, but by enabling the continuation of subsistence practices and control over diet, gardens can make a substantial contribution to the maintenance of identity and cultural values (Kortright, 2007).

Before going any further, I would like to discuss the benefits of gardening in relation to health and therapy at the individual and family levels.  Literature suggests that gardens carry special meanings for individuals.  Both physical activity and exposure to nature are known separately to have positive effects on physical and mental health (Griffin et al., 2005; Gross and Lane 2007; Kiesling and Manning, 2010).  Pollan’s adventure to Polyface Farm shows us just that.  Pollan describes a sense of accomplishment each time he does something new around the farm.  Gardening seems to empower individuals by generating new confidence, skills and understanding as well as emphasizing restorative qualities making the garden a place of respite, recovery and simple enjoyment (Catanzaro and Ekanem, 2004).  Nature and living things, it seems, tend to make most people feel good (Griffin et al., 2005).  The evidence indicates that nature can make positive contributions to our health, help us recover from pre-existing stresses or problems, have an ‘immunizing’ effect by protecting us from future stresses, promote peace and tranquility, enhance self-esteem, and help us to concentrate and think more clearly (Griffin et al., 2005; Gross and Lane, 2007; Kiesling and Manning, 2010; Westphal, 2003). Keen gardeners can gain gratification from an encounter with nature that produces tangible outcomes and engages the senses (Gross and Lane, 2007).

A garden is a creative, public expression of both personal and social identity (Kiesling and Manning, 2010).  For the individual, gardening provides exercise, stress reduction and relaxation (CMGP, 2011).  For many, it provides a creative outlet, a sense of accomplishment and the gardener’s personal link to nature (CMGP, 2011).  Gardening one’s own garden leads to the greatest levels of satisfaction (Gross and Lane, 2007).  At the individual level, planting a food garden can provide a sense of accomplishment and or effectiveness that might otherwise be lacking in a person’s day-to-day life (Westphal, 2003).  This sense of accomplishment and effectiveness is a component of a modest victory (Westphal, 2003).  Through cultivation of their property, gardeners are making meaning, forming attachments to a place, linking their sense of themselves to their home-space, and engaging with that physical environment to develop, maintain, and publicly display an identity (Kiesling and Manning, 2010).  Experiencing a connection to, or reciprocity with nature is important; working in dirt, tending plants, observing growth, gaining knowledge and experiencing sensory joy are effective in facilitating a view of oneself as being close to the earth (Kiesling and Manning, 2010).  By sharing garden and hospitality practices with younger generations, parents and grandparents pass on social obligations and moral values, such as the importance of reciprocity, thriftiness, self-sufficiency, and respect for land and for living things (Kortright, 2007).  Family bonds are strengthened as families work together on yard care and gardening activities (CMGP, 2011).  Children learn work skills and team skills through gardening projects (CMGP, 2011).

It is clear that the demand for better quality food has risen and people are aspiring to eat both more healthily and to buy food that has a reduced impact on the environment.  The Omnivore’s Dilemma is a case and point.  When it comes to my personal feelings towards having a food garden, I could not be a bigger advocate.  It seems a little inexpressible to explain the feelings I have gotten from growing my own food.  For the past few years I have set up a little vegetable garden in my backyard.  I have no ‘real’ knowledge on gardening- I was completely clueless to say the least.  My ultimate goal was just to be able to eat whatever came from the garden.  Unaware of this at the beginning of my gardening days, I had realized that there has been something much more than just eating.  Being able to eat the fruits of my labor, taste the freshness and feel the satisfaction of seeing something come from land to larder has been a bigger food experience than I had ever imagined.  The tomatoes taste more tomato-y, the peppers more pepper-y, the lettuce more lettuce-y and so on!  Having that connection to the land is just one of those things that you hear about, but may never really get to experience.  There is definitely a sense of pride, of victory, of accomplishment that comes with growing one’s own food, and Pollan, although he does not explicitly say this in the book, in my opinion, explains that all of this has been taken away with the current industrial, large-scale food production system.

My garden:

Works Cited

Catanzaro, C. and E. Ekanem. 2004. Home Gardeners Value Stress Reduction and Interaction with Nature. Horticulture, Human Well-Being and Life Quality. 269-275.

Colorado Master Gardener Program. Benefits of Gardening. Colorado State University. 1-5.

Griffin, Murray et al. 2005. The mental and physical health outcomes of green exercise. Internaitonal Journal of Environmental Health Research. 15(5): 319-337.

Gross, Harriet and Nicola Lane. 2007. Landscapes of the lifespan: Exploring accounts of own gardens and gardening. Journal of Environmental Psychology. 27: 225-241.

Kiesling, Frances M. and Christie M. Manning. 2010. How green is your thumb? Environmental gardening identity and ecological gardening practices. Journal of Environmental Psychology. 30: 315-327.

Kortright, Robin. 2007. Edible Backyards: Residential Land Use for Food Production in Toronto. 1-139.

Pretty, Jules. 2004. How nature contributes to mental and physical health. Spirituality and Health International. 5(2): 68-78.

Westphal, Lynne M. 2003. Urban Greening and Social Benefits: A study of Empowerment Outcomes.  Journal of    Aboriculture. 29(3): 137- 147



Michael Pollan: The Omnivore’s Dilemma

10 Feb