I’m going to be real honest with you, friends of Civil Eats, I was once one of those people who threw my used up old McDonalds wrappers and soda containers out the car window. I didn’t care. I ate my Filet o’Fish and fries then threw my trash into the world. That was back in Indianapolis, when I was an oblivious rebel against Keep It Clean campaigns. Sorry Mom and Dad, you taught me right; but my friends did it too – let’s blame it on peer pressure and the cult of fast food culture and call it a day. Steeped in it, I was. When hanging out at Noble Romans or in the McDonald’s parking lot is the fun thing to do after the basketball game, so be it. So, given the premise that this fast food lifestyle was part of the foundation of my youth, then how did I become a card caring Slow Food advocate and campaigner for good, clean and fair food for everyone? How did this polluting Hoosier with no sense for the environment or food quality get here?
For my own biographical edification, I’ll detail my food history (the activism part is a whole other story). And, for your reading pleasure, I’ll make it brief.
It started in Indianapolis, pre trash throwing days with an education in fresh food. As a young girl and tween my parents grew a variety of vegetables in our backyard: carrots, kohlrabi, green beans, tomatoes, green peppers, sweet corn and strawberries. I spent many a summer day eating mulberries right off the tree in our suburban yard and sampling tomatoes from the vine. (Who doesn’t love the smell of a tomato leaf plucked from the stalk?) We supplemented Mom’s favorite canned soups and casserole recipes with our bounty. We never had much money so I can imagine the garden helped out a lot when times were particularly lean. And, they were often lean. The vegetable patch and times spent in the garden with my Mom, Dad, brother and sisters remain amongst my fondest memories.
In high school, I worked for a small pizza hot spot in Broad Ripple Village (my neighborhood on the Northside) called Bazbeaux. I became enthralled with the rush of food service culture and the flavor of their creamy cucumber dressing – it tasted like real cucumbers. And, guess what? It’s because they made it with real cucumbers. Schilling pizza with “gourmet” fresh ingredients gave me daily access to new food flavors. I also worked for a small catering company owned by a friend’s mom. I was Claudette’s right hand gal and learned a lot about cooking for and serving big groups, especially in Kosher kitchens. And, it was during this time, when I drove my friends around after school in my Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme, en route to tennis matches and make-out sessions, that I was the litterbug – high on teenage angst and addicted to my own melodrama. In retrospect I simply lived the way everyone else did: ordered my food at the drive thru, ate it in my car and threw the trash out the window. Same with the cigarettes I smoked – out the window so they wouldn’t fill up the ashtray I didn’t want be obligated to empty.
At Indiana University, hanging with a slightly more sophisticated crowd and afraid of the freshman 15 (the pounds you gain your first year), I cleaned up my act a bit and curbed the fast food dining. Barely managing to feed myself a favorite rice and soy sauce combo, I earned my keep with more catering and pizza parlor work. Then, the summer before junior year, I found myself managing a kitchen for a canoe outfitter in Ely, Minnesota. I wanted a challenge and a completely different, out-of-the-box experience. And, it was in Ely that I finally engaged with the outdoors. Prior to this time I thought I would never want to have a connection to the woods or earth. Like I had a choice. I would tell friends that for me to go for a hike I’d need to be encased in a glass box. I was afraid of bugs and dew and bear, and moose to be sure! But a summer swimming in clean lakes, social hikes after dinner, black flies eating me alive, picking leeches off my thighs and waking at 3 a.m. to watch the Northern Lights transformed me. I shed my city ways and became one with the wild. Then, I spent the summer before senior year in Florence Italy, eating simple food – another wake up call. By then, my littering days were over. Fast food took more shedding.
After graduating, English degree in tow, I moved to the Bay Area. I remember one of my last McDonald’s burgers – first year in the East Bay, boyfriend and I at Micky Ds. He orders two Big Macs and acts like its no big deal. I realize that these things are contributing to our growing girth; that I was on my way to becoming a big, fat person. That initial realization took a while, but it led to an entirely new life. My first real job in the Bay was as an Associate Editor of a now defunct vegetarian magazine called Veggie Life. After a year I became Managing Editor and had the pleasure of diving deep into the issues surrounding vegetarianism and tasty vegetarian recipes. My next job was for a cookbook publisher who paid for a few cooking classes at Tante Marie. Once I connected food, cooking and career it was natural for me to want to learn about produce and protein origins, and all the nasty stories behind our agricultural and food culture behemoths. I started my own course of study – reading, cooking, and experimenting with different products from different sources. I also continued to work in restaurants from pubs to fine dining establishments. Always observing, tasting and learning.
I'm from Illinois, and I've eaten a tasty pizza at Bazbeaux in Indy. I too have evolved from being a taco bell addict guzzling dr. pepper, to growing veggies on my fire escape and finding out the truth about the megafarms I grew up by as a teen.
Fight the good fight. If we can become enlightened, everyone can!