by Suzanne Schreiner & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & I & lt;/span & t's the 21st century. Do you know where your food comes from? Apart, that is, from "Safeway" or "Rosauers"? Laurie Carlson, editor of Field & amp; Feast: The Magazine of Food, Agriculture, & amp; Health, is pretty sure you don't.
And Carlson has startling news: Our food is nutrient-poor. Why? Because high-yield plant varieties and nitrogen-heavy growing methods have emphasized size at the expense of nutrition. Foods with empty calories have sent Americans' health into decline. Though we are living longer than our ancestors, Carlson says, our lifespan is marred by chronic illness. Field & amp; Feast is her labor of love, where she makes the case that we all should care how our food is grown and processed.
Consider the egg. At Carlson's little Four Lakes homestead, it's what's for breakfast. The red and white chicken houses, which look like diminutive barns, house roughly 300 hens -- Araucanas, Rhode Island Reds and White Leghorns. The hens roam and cluck in the small enclosed yards outside the houses, even on a cold winter day. This is a world away from the factory farm, with chickens crowded into cages, dosed with antibiotics and forever strangers to sunlight. Carlson's hens get a lot of organic green grass, flax and alfalfa hay, which makes their eggs high in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Rather than cholesterol-laden scapegoats, she sees them as the "Nature's perfect food" of yesteryear -- packed with an army of essential nutrients bigger than the egg itself and lacking only vitamin C.
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & Y & lt;/span & et all of this is a far cry from where Carlson started -- as a home economist, immersed in "commercial, pro-industrial thinking." She and her husband, who was raised in a farm family, grew wheat with heavy chemical inputs. They were commodity growers, growing wheat for export on a large acreage in Latah County, Idaho. Carlson says she was always a little unhappy with wheat farming because she felt trapped in the house. Though surrounded by fields, she couldn't roam them because that might knock down the wheat. Worse, she couldn't plunge her own hands into the soil, because nothing but the wheat hybrid engineered for the nitrogen-steeped soil would grow on it. Commodity farming and small-scale organic farms are "two different worlds that don't even speak to each other," she says, adding that her interest in small-scale farming may have taken root in her childhood on 17 acres of rocks and brush in the Sierras of northern California, where her dad kept a milk cow and a garden.
But she says, "It was the study of the past and how people lived" that really turned her thinking toward organics and small-scale farming. A historian and anthropologist, Carlson says nowadays people don't think about what's in their food or know where it comes from, even though for most of human history, agriculture was at the center of their lives. Meanwhile, back at the farm, Carlson butchers the animals she raises as women have done for thousands of years to feed their families, thus living what she believes.
"I think it's creative," she says. "You feel like you created this food. You raised the animal, you fed it and you cared for it. Then you're turning it into a dish that people are going to be sustained by. It's going to be the healthiest food you could find. You don't waste it. We don't throw any of it away. You can use every bit of it."
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & C & lt;/span & arlson brought her philosophy and interests to Field & amp; Feast, which is now approaching its first birthday. She sees the magazine as an "artisan publication," whose approach is admittedly "totally unsophisticated and unbusinesslike." She did no market research.
"When I went to the newsstand, I couldn't find magazines that I wanted to read, or wanted to write for. They were too slick ... full of ads, and stories about 'buy this, buy that.'"
Emphasizing content and depth, Carlson takes little advertising. Even at $4.95 a copy, though, it's not enough to support the magazine. She acknowledges it is impossible to break even without advertising. Sales from www.fieldandfeast.net have brought subscribers from places like Seattle, Portland and California, as well as the East Coast and overseas. Carlson thinks the magazine will find a niche with people turned off by the commercialism of other organic and natural foods magazines.
Despite the dominance of advertising, people are increasingly receptive to her message of organics and phenomena such as the Slow Food movement. "People want real information," she says. "Our health makes us realize how important it is."
Carlson sees people taking their health into their own hands and trying to limit their dependence on pharmaceuticals, because they have lost faith in the experts. Of course, organic farming isn't exactly a new idea. Before World War II, everybody ate and farmed organically, says Carlson, because synthetic fertilizers weren't available. Organic foods, grown and raised without chemicals, are a return to nutritionally complete foods, produced in a "traditional" manner.
Even if the change is really a return to the sound traditions of our great-grandparents, Carlson says, "We're all just hoping for change."
Field & amp; Feast is available at Auntie's, Barnes & amp; Noble NorthTown, the Humble Earth Natural Market and at www.fieldandfeast.net.