During World War I and World War II citizens were encouraged to plant gardens to support the war effort. By planting their own fruits and vegetables, they were told, they would lessen the strain on the public food sources and lower the cost of food for the troops, freeing the military to spend money on other supplies. Gardens popped up everywhere. Neighborhood yards, empty lots, and even public parks became transformed into sprawling landscapes of fresh fruit and vegetables. It became one's patriotic duty to grow their own fresh produce.
Then, with the end of World War II, the efforts of citizens were directed elsewhere. Husbands and fathers returned from the war, and families were reunited. Men returned to the workforce, and women returned to their homes. The victory garden posters were discarded and the radio announcements ceased, and the once vibrant gardens stood empty and overgrown....or were replaced by flowers and grass.
We are in the midst of a new crisis. Unemployment rates are soaring as industry leaves this country. Foreclosures are on the rise. Yet I can drive around my hometown on any night of the week, and restaurant parking lots are filled to capacity. Convenience foods leap off the shelves of our supermarkets. Many of us spend more money on food than we spend on our housing. What if we were to think back to those victory garden slogans? What if we were to spend a little sweat and energy so that our money could go toward other purchases?
Restaurants add more fat to food than we would normally add at home. That is why we can't always reproduce the same tenderness and flavor at home. Order a grilled chicken and even have them eliminate the fattening sauce....chances are they still brushed it with butter or oil. Their goal is to make money. They do this by keeping the customer satisfied. Taste, not healthiness is the key to keeping the customer satisfied.
Food in the grocery store comes from all over the world. Produce is no different. In order to serve fruits and vegetables that are out of season here, they must be shipped from somewhere they are in season. They must be picked before they are ripe, be preserved in some way (often through waxes or other preservatives), and travel by boat, plane, or truck, adding fuel consumption into their cost. The goal is to ripen them somewhat but not too much, and to preserve them as long as possible so they can be purchased, and maybe even consumed, before they rot. It should also be noted that the grower's goal is to produce as great a profit as possible on as little land as possible with as little labor as possible. This means that chemical fertilizers and pesticides have been applied to the produce as well. And that produce is expensive!! We are paying a premium for unripened, aging produce containing pesticides, preservatives, and fertilizers. It really is crazy when you think about it.
Prepackaged food is full of additives and preservatives as well. Have you checked the labels of the foods in your pantry? How about those frozen dinners? Check it all. I really don't have many commercially canned items in my pantry, but I have some. The label on the chicken noodle soup is fourteen lines long as contains such things as high fructose corn syrup, disodium inosinate, and l-cycteine hydrochloride. The cream of chicken soup looks no better. Check your labels. What really concerns me is when they just put 'artificial flavors'. What does that mean? Of what, exactly, is artificial chicken flavor composed? My canned kidney beans contain high fructose corn syrup and my canned mushrooms contain MSG. Almost everything, unless you purchase the NO SALT ADDED version as I do, contains sodium. There are other 'not so goodies' in there as well. Check those labels!
Fresh, home grown fruit and vegetables are fresher and healthier. You have control of what you apply to your plants and produce. You can grow them organically for little or no additional cost. You can pick them when they are perfectly ripe and at their peak in flavor. The flavor of fresh produce barely resembles the flavor of produce purchased in the grocery store. You know that watery, grainy cantaloupe you purchase in the grocery store? We grew some cantaloupe last year that tasted like it had been drenched in honey water. It was amazing! People are already reminding us how much they love us so they can obtain some more this year. And with a little more additional labor, you can freeze and can some of the fruits of your labor. You can choose what to add. You can preserve your fresh, flavorful harvest without the use of additives or preservatives. You can control the amount of sugar or salt you add. You are free to eliminate it altogether. And you can enjoy healthy, flavorful produce throughout the off-season.
Gardening is economical. Seeds are cheap. You can buy most packets of seed, more than you could possibly need, for somewhere between $1.00 and $3.00. Each plant that grows from each seed has the potential to produce a bounty of produce. You can grow dozens of flavorful cantaloupe for less money that it takes to purchase one watery, grainy cantaloupe at the supermarket. Many varieties of seeds, especially those from open pollinated, heirloom varieties, can be saved and used next year, eliminating the need to purchase seeds again. Many hybrid varieties, however, are sterile and need to be purchased yearly. If you do get into saving your seeds, you have the added benefit of being able to trade seeds with other seed savers. It doesn't get any cheaper than that!
There is an additional bonus to growing your own garden. Tending to your garden gives you the opportunity to spend time in the great outdoors, breathing fresh air, and getting beneficial exercise without the cost of a health club membership. It is theraputic, and many people find the garden a great place for prayer. Not only is the food healthier for you, but the act of growing the food is healthy for you. What more could a person ask for?
I believe it is time we resurrect the victory garden. Victory over our finances....victory over flavor....and victory over our health. I hope you agree. Happy gardening!