Recently my husband and I took a get away to Furnace Creek Ranch in Death Valley. For years I wanted to see the desert wildflowers in March. With all the late rain this year, I was sure the desert would be a blaze with yellow, blue, pink flowers. We packed up the car, I loaded our cooler with lots of our favorite healthy food for the few days we would be gone. It is my custom to packed food for our car trips. When our boys were young, we’d sit on the bed in our shared hotel room feasting on prepared pasta, bean dips, salsa, cucumber, carrot, celery sticks, olives, (always olives and not the ones from a can), tortilla chips, peanut butter, almond butters, nuts and raisins, hard boiled eggs. Not just to save money, which was a consideration, but to make sure my family had healthy organic foods available to them. We would treat ourselves to a restaurant experience but certainly not for all our meals.
Every trip I go on, I always search out the local natural food store. In the days before the large natural food chains, this would become a fun adventure. My boys would roll their eyes, (my husband more patient) not an other health food store. But there was the anticipated promise, of what I refer to as the “healthy junk food” snacks, our boys and husband loved to eat: carob malt balls, yinnies (brown rice syrup taffy), red raspberry chews, dried apples, cheese puffs, frozen juice pops, Guru Chews and the savory sesame sticks to name a few. The choices have expanded over the years. This has become big business.
Today my older adult son who traveled back and forth across the US teaching musical theater to children, told me he’d look for a local health food store. He’s the one who rolled his eyes the most and the one who definitely loved his treats. So the tradition is carried on. Sadly, he also informed me that most smaller towns, don’t have a health food store, though it sure was exciting when he’d discover one, searching out his old favorite treats. Over the years in our family travels, more and more farmers markets began to happen so the local farmers market was added to my inquiry. Of course I couldn’t resist buying way to much produce. We would stuff ourselves on fresh fruits and veggies.
As my husband and I drove east from Santa Cruz, turn towards Salinas, heading towards Bakersfield, I began to notice the dominance of fast food chain after fast food chain. We leave Bakersfield and follow the Kern River. Now natural beauty surrounds us, the hills are still cover with green. We find a lovely spot for a picnic. I open the cooler abundant with delicious foods and pull together a lunch. I carry it to the rivers edge where we enjoy the sound of the river alive from winters rain, as we consume the tasty meal prepared. This is one of the joys of our life.
We continue on through the small desert towns and I am struck at the lack of food available for the inhabitants. I remember when towns had local dinners, food stands and restaurants with actual home cooked food. Now it seems the only food along the main roads are fast food chains. I think about the availability of organic food in Santa Cruz. I take it for granted. On any given day I have the good fortune to make the decision on which natural food store to visit or which farmers market fits into my schedule. How incredibly fortunate I am but I wonder about the lack of organic food or even fresh food, available to these people who live in the towns we drive by. It disturbs me this inequality of fresh food. Daily I receive e-mails about about the inequitable distribution of healthy food, about the large food waste lands and this is in America. Here it is in my in my face. I feel an ache in my heart for what is not available.
I enjoy the harsh barren beauty of the desert. The wildflowers were scares this year. The rain didn’t make it over enough mountain ranges to reach Death Valley. I transfer our food to the small frig in the room. I will prepare our food and we will feast on our deck, gazing at the mountains in the distance. We hike and explore the various landmarks. It all appears prehistoric to me, like I’m witnessing the forming of our earth.
Back home I type farmers market Bakersfield into the Google bar. I’m pleased to discover they do have one. Then I type in natural food store. I think they have one as well, though it isn’t totally clear to me if it’s actually in Bakersfield. I feel distressed about the lack of “real” food choices for the people in the areas I observed out the car window, as we drove on and on. I think about our restaurant, Charlie Hong Kong. It’s mission to serve organic, healthy, affordable food to people. It has long been a goal of mine to bring this kind of organic food to this underserved population. A dream of mine to introduce “real” food to those raised on chain store fast food; for them to discover there is an option. I believe it is a right to have healthy affordable food accessible to everyone and should not be a privilege. If inclined, I recommend checking out the web-site Food Democracy and what’s happening at the USDA. I recently spent an entire day totally inspired, watching a live web-cast on TEDX, “Changing the Way We Eat”. Check it out. I know many of you are engaged in this issue or would like to be. I welcome your feedback. Remember we do make a difference.