For my breakfast this morning, I had plain, whole milk yogurt sprinkled with pomegranate seeds, walnuts, cinnamon and honey. It took a while to separate the luscious seeds from their tight little clumps inside the fruit, and as I was doing so I thought about how the cows had grazed the hillsides to produce the grass-fed milk and how millions of tiny bacteria had spent their lives culturing it into yogurt. Then there was a tree that grew for years and years before growing these delicious walnuts, and there were the bees that traveled so many miles and visited so many thousands of flowers to create this perfect little bit of sweetness for me, this morning, and I thought about food and the time it takes and how we often try so hard to get around that.
I grew up in a time when Carnation Instant Breakfast was the latest and greatest thing, along with TANG and Pop Tarts, products inspired by the space age. We were awestruck by images of the Gemini astronauts floating around in zero gravity sucking their nutrients in the form of powders and pastes delivered through tubes going straight to their mouths. They had so much to do up there in those capsules, exploring the universe and so on, and there was no such thing as “sitting” down for a meal in a weightless environment. It made perfect sense that this was how they would eat. Of course we wanted to be like the astronauts because we were busy too, and taking the time to actually sit down for breakfast before dashing out the door to school seemed so “way back when.”
The food industry complied with our fascination for instant, minimal preparation sustenance by creating countless “open and eat” products convenient for a busy lifestyle. Most people (many moms included) thought this was okay as long as we were getting the nutrients we needed, which we thought we were. After all, it said so on the box.
Years later I brought this assumption into my own family life as standard operating procedure, though thinking I was being discerning, I always read labels and looked for things that were high protein, low fat, and vitamin fortified. I trusted in modern science that nutrients created in a lab would do the job, and that as long as we followed the FDA Food Pyramid guidelines we were eating well. But creating a meal with the four food groups and having the family gather around the table to eat it every night was a pipe dream. Occasionally? Sure. Normal? Nope. After all there was dance, drama, tennis, music, scouts, softball, concerts, recitals…you name it.
Convenience was the name of the game when it came to meals. It was the same for most families of the time I think, and perhaps still is, but nevertheless I don’t like admitting it.
I think about these things and write about them as a way of bringing about change, for myself as well as for others who might be interested. The slow food movement is evidence of a growing awareness of how our food systems have failed us. Remembering the Instant Breakfast days, I consciously allow myself the moments needed to prepare my slow breakfast, and then savor the milk, fruit and honey flavors that can only be created–and enjoyed–with time.