Holy Shiitake Mushrooms!
By Amy Willis
How much thought do you put into how you acquired the food you eat? I don’t mean where did you buy it, but who grew it, found it, caught it, killed it? I admit that the answer for me is, “not much.” I have a small garden patch in the summer and forage a bit in the spring and fall, but otherwise… I buy it. Washington Post columnist Tamar Haspel, on the other hand, knows lots more about the origins of her food. A little over a decade ago, she and her husband embarked on a “first-hand food” odyssey; at one point almost 30% of their caloric intake was from food they’d grown, caught, or killed themselves!
So why did she do it? That’s how this episode starts, as EconTalk host Russ Roberts welcomes Haspel back to the show. Haspel recounts that the most vociferous reactions she’s received about the project are from those outraged that she finds eggs from her backyard chickens taste no different from store-bought ones. But Haspel also tells us that her new book, To Boldly Grow, is indeed about food, but it’s also about trying new things, acquiring new skills, and testing our boundaries. So let’s hear what you took from this episode.
1- How did Haspel’s experiment with first-hand food begin, and why? Why wasn’t she interested in self-sufficiency? How did the experience change her ideas about food? Have any of your ideas about food changed since listening to this episode?
2- What were the biggest problems she encountered in her quest for first-hand food? Roberts is quick to point out that her practice was not lucrative, and may even be perceived as a “luxury.” What first-hand food practices might actually be lucrative, and why? Do you have any experience either saving or making money first-hand? Tell us about it.
3- Haspel says her book is as much about the acquisition of skills as it is about food. Which of Haspel’s new skills most struck you, and why? How did her new skills better enable her to talk with people very politically and philosophically different than her? Are there any similar skills you’ve been inspired to try? Is the idea of mastery as underrated as Roberts suggests?
4- Haspel’s experiment started by trying to eat one thing every day that they acquired first-hand. Could you do it? Where would you start? What would be off-limits for you? Explain.
5- How does our predominantly urban lifestyle affect our diets, according to Haspel? Besides focusing on first-hand foods, what other means can you suggest by which we might achieve the same ends?