The Secret to Simple Food Lies Below Your Feet
I haven’t yet dug into the topic of soil on this blog since most of our daily focus is actually above the ground. But if I look more closely at my experience buying ingredients and preparing nourishing family meals, I notice that most of it originates from the power of healthy topsoil. And that, precisely, is what keeps us alive.
Need I say, soil is the essence of life on this planet.
You mean dirt, right?
Mmm, not quite. Dirt is barren, devoid of life, whereas soil is dense, nutrient-laden organic matter free of pesticides (so no pre-packaged Miracle-Gro here). It is beaming with everything from good bacteria to minerals to earthworms. This combination of biodiversity has incredible superpowers that can elevate the quality of our food and bring back the nutritional punch it once had! In fact, our food was quite nutrient-rich as little as 50 years ago before industrialized agriculture took hold and small, no-till family farms began to dwindle.
When produce is grown within a thriving ecosystem, it will naturally support our body and eliminate any need to supplement. You'll enjoy the inherent nutritional richness that has been developing over the course of a growing season. You’ll feel energized and your skin will glow from the inside out.
The right food can truly be medicine if it comes from the very best "Farmacy."
Better yet, produce grown this way also tastes incredibly delicious! For anyone preparing food, this is a dream, right? When you begin the cooking process with ingredients that are already beaming with taste rather then watered down, blah-ness, you, as a home cook come in with a strong advantage.
Yes, I know. I'm offering you one of my biggest secrets in the kitchen!
Why do I always emphasize simplicity in my technique? Well, because I need very little to enhance what’s already been gifted to me by the soil. And I have come to realize that the true role of farmers in our community is to grow healthy soil. And that, in turn, grows healthy food and as a result, promotes healthy people.
I was lucky to be let in on this insight in 2015 while working at an Olive Ranch in California, where the soil was consistently analyzed and tended to with utmost love. This care naturally lent itself to thriving Italian olive trees and consequently, some of the best olive oil I have ever tasted! I realize now just how much emphasis was placed on elevating the soil quality through composting and natural land management. Yes, the trees themselves were pruned seasonally and often times protected from critters by a protective clay layer sprayed on their leaves, but without fail, the ecosystem of the soil always came first.
Now, I prioritize buying food that is grown close to home where the farmers lovingly tend to their soil because it helps my meals to shine.
The tiny speckled Fairytale Eggplant I just bought from the farmers market were beaming with flavor and beautiful aesthetics on their own. Thus, the minimalist in me saw no need to mask them in flavoring elements or spices. Instead, I cut the eggplant in half lengthwise, laid them on a sheet pan with some olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt, and roasted them at high heat for less than 10 min. Nothing beats the taste of delicious simplicity.
On another occasion, I began my cooking adventure with organic carrots that had traveled from another state, their skins already dried up and the stumpy tops shriveled where there was once abundant green-ness. Despite the organic label, they may not have been grown in rich soil, but rather, a large monoculture organic facility which is sadly becoming the norm among "Big Organic" companies.
Moreover, these poor carrots had suffered the pains of transport and storage for maybe up to a week and had lost a good part of their nutritional value. Therefore, these carrots required peeling (which I normally don’t do), and a good roast with cumin, paprika and an extra dose of lime to make them pop. All to bring a semblance of flavor to a bland vegetable. The irony.
Which would you rather eat?
Once you know that growing tasty food like this is not only better for your body but also enhances your cooking technique, it's hard to look back.
Not just that, but prioritizing food grown this way is also better for the planet. The highly anticipated documentary Kiss the Ground that made its debut earlier this week (a must see!) beautifully lays out the idea of Regenerative Farming, this idea of agriculture as a dynamic system, rather than just a product, and of giving back to the Earth more than you take out.
Through a lens of hope, the movie provides us with actionable steps to help replenish our fast eroding topsoil and draw down excess carbon from the atmosphere - from growing our own gardens to composting to supporting the hard work of our farmers and crafting simple plant-based dishes to celebrate the season (my favorite).
The solution really does lie beneath your feet - it’s simply a matter of honoring the Earth’s generous gift of soil.