By Kelly Fores

Have you ever taken a look at how food has affected your life, or how life has affected your eating habits? I recently gave this some consideration.

As a child, three balanced meals were served at the same times every day. Decades later, when I worked for a large corporation, I took great pleasure in preparing extravagant meals for my best friends, and we’d share life’s triumphs over dinner. Four years later, I moved to Sarasota and was nearly penniless after buying my home. Still, I did a fair job of feeding my preteen daughter, as well as myself.

To me, the consumption of food at that time was merely a survival mechanism. It got me through days that included eight hours at the office preceded and followed by several hours of home remodeling. Later still, I met and began dating a Brazilian man who taught me the difference between eating and dining, and we’d linger over meals, enjoying our food and conversation. Then I began my own business and life became really hectic. I would joke, “as long as I have coffee, half & half, and sugar, I’m set!” When I realized the joke had become my way of life, I decided that I needed to make time to prepare meals from scratch and not eat while I replied to emails. My refrigerator, long empty except for that half & half, is now fully stocked and humming happily.

Something to Savor

The lesson I learned from the Brazilian has never left me. A meal is something to be savored, not just get out of the way. It’s an easy thing to say, but not always an easy thing to do.

America is a food-obsessed society, good and bad: counting calories, satisfying our sweet tooth, opting for organic, abating our hunger with drive-through burgers, trying the latest diet fad. We also take food for granted: supermarkets, farmer’s markets, restaurants, dollar menus and microwave meals abound. Have you really considered what you’re eating and from where the food comes?

In 1989, an organization called Slow Food began in Italy in opposition to the opening of a fast- food chain near a monumental staircase in Rome. While they weren’t successful in stopping the restaurant giant, the group has since made great strides with its mission and has expanded to more than

132 countries.

According to the Slow Food USA website, “Slow Food is an idea, a way of living and a way of eating. It is a global, grassroots movement . . . that links the pleasure of food with a commitment to community and the environment.” The mission is to reconnect Americans with the people, traditions, plants, animals, soils and waters that produce our food. USA Today wrote, “Slow food aims to be everything fast food is not.”

Slow Food USA supporters, which include restaurateurs, foodies, farmers, and home and professional cooks, celebrate the vast array of foods that are available to us and “work to strengthen the connection between the food on our plates and the health of our planet.” Across the country, 200 chapters encourage the enjoyment of local, seasonal and sustainable foods; care for the land to protect it for today’s communities and future generations; offer educational programs to children; identify produce, wild food, animal breeds and cooking traditions at risk of disappearing; advocate for farmers and artisans; and promote the celebration of food as a cornerstone of pleasure, culture and community.

Eating Green

Elsie Gilmore, local resident, green living educator and owner of TrueGreenBliss.com, grew up on a farm in Vermont and slow food was a way of life, “but it wasn’t thought of like that,” she says. “It was ‘the corn is growing so we’re going to eat that.’ Our meat and milk came from local farms. We didn’t think about it, we just did it.” In her 20s, Elsie’s lifestyle changed, but, she says, “In the last three years, I’ve really gotten back into knowing from where my food comes and buying local, especially when you see the hormones in meat and the salmonella in eggs.” She chooses meat that is locally grown and grass-fed, which she says can be a challenge to find but offers Rosas Farm in Marion County as a source—they deliver to Sarasota every Wednesday.

Green living is easy, though a lot of people are intimidated by the concept. However, Elsie says, “It’s not about changing your life overnight, but about making changes over time, doing one thing at a time. It saves money, actually, and I think people often get hung up on the green living methods with large upfront costs. Sure, food costs may be a little higher, but when you eat food that is better for you and more nourishing, you’re going to save money that you would have given to a doctor because your immune system is going to be better. You’ll be healthier.”

The best way to begin incorporating this process into your life is to slow down and enjoy food, she says. Cook at home more often. “Even just growing a tomato plant or pepper plant is a great way to begin, because they’re easy to grow here. Simply think more about what you eat and where it might have come from. Food gives you life, and life is about feeling good. Why would a person not want to put the best food they can into their bodies?”

Food for Thought

Aside from personal benefits, the community also benefits, says Elsie. “Obviously if people are eating healthier, fewer people get sick, and as individuals we save tax dollars.” Farmer’s markets are another community benefit. The farmer’s market is the happiest place on earth for Elsie. “It brings people together and is a great way to share all these healthy things. A farmer’s market is one of the greatest ways to bring a community together.”

What can you do to get started? Take a look at your eating and food-buying habits. Gather your friends and family, prepare a meal together and savor it. Plant a garden. Eat less fast food. Teach your children or grandchildren about food, its origins and how to prepare it. Share the bounty of your fruit trees with your neighbors. Chat with a farmer’s market vendor about his or her practices—and thank him or her for being a farmer. Buy local. Slow down, because food is life and both are meant to be enjoyed.

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