ever since i started researching GM (genetically modified) foods and the benefits -- economical, political, physical/medical, and environmental -- of local and organic foods and produce, it has increasingly bugged me that most americans don't know, or care to know, where their food comes from. that's why we're willing to eat foods that come out of boxes and microwaves or are composed of more man-made chemicals than natural components or are fluorescent colored without thinking twice about the repercussions.
i am by far an entirely organic and local eater but in the past few years have really attempted to make my diet a bit more earth and society friendly. i am far from there -- particularly now that i am living on a very simple diet and often (and by often i mean everyday) crave american processed foods like instant oatmeal or jellybeans or every now and then macaroni and cheese (feel free to send). i realize more and more everyday the great accessibility americans have to food. in the states, we can get apples and lettuce and pineapple year round and considering the fruit and veggie worm i am, i have always wondered if i could be so disciplined to eat by the seasons (like in barbara kingsolver's "animal, vegetable, miracle"). i've never really thought i could.
now that i'm in senegal living with farmers, i've pretty much been forced to do so. i mourned the passing of watermelon season and was relieved when less and less jaxatu (bitter tomato) showed up in the bowl. i eagerly await the fruits of our lettuce planting and am ready for bissap to be over. it is a very interesting gastronomical experience and i enjoy seeing (and helping) the women pick the vegetables for lunch and dinner in the morning from the gardens. my only complaint is that there fails to be much creativity in senegalese cooking and we wind up eating the same thing almost every day (after two years of life here i don't think i will ever ever ever crave mafe again).
these days i know and see where my food (or most of it at least) comes from which is overall a good thing, even if some of the conditions sometimes make me squirm (ex: chickens eat poop and i eat chickens). i live with peanut farmers and peanuts subsequently play a huge role in my diet -- a person with peanut allergies would not stand a day in my village. the base for most sauces is TIGADEGE, known to americans/english speakers as peanut butter (except with no sugar or additives) and senegalese peanut butter is far better than any i've had in the states and us PCV's have amazed countless senegalese by smothering our bread, bananas, apples, etc. in tigadege which to them is a base product, like chicken broth or flour.
anyway, my point is that not a day goes by where i don't consume some kind of peanut product and tonight as i was munching on freshly roasted peanuts, i realized that i have unknowingly become part of the process and not only do i know where my food comes from, i have played a part in process!
i got here during the harvesting period and spent a few days going out to the fields to gather and separate tilled peanuts. many afternoons were spent pulling peanuts from their stalks (roots?). i've helped sift and collect loose peanuts. most recently -- even up to today -- i have been shelling peanuts to the point where my fingers are raw. tonight i learned and helped with the roasting and pounding and sifting process and tomorrow will assist in bringing the peanuts to birkelane where they will be processed into tigadege which will be subsequently put into the mafe that i will most certainly eat the next day. i suppose this is also me realzing how deeply engrained this gigantically long process to EAT and SURVIVE is in their lives as i did not even realize until now that in my attempt to integrate into the community have been helping to make the food i eat.
not including the entire process of preparing fields, planting seeds, and growing the plants, harvest to eating has taken 2 months (and is a continual process anyhow, as i know for a fact that my peanut shelling days are not over). compare that to the literal 10 minutes it took me to get out my door, in the elevator, and down the street to duane reade (open 24 hours) to pick up a jar of peanut butter...and if there was a line at check out, i would tap my foot impatiently and huff and puff about how i wanted to eat now because i had things to do or places to be or tv to watch. now peanut butter IS MY LIFE and in 10 minutes i can't even get a kilo of peanuts shelled.