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Opinion

Canning isn’t just for Grandma

Kirsten Blake

October 8, 2009

The next time I visit home, I’m coming back with several jars of homemade tomato sauce. My neighbor has a dozen jars of his mother’s chicken gumbo hidden under the bed where his roommate won’t find it. The best strawberry jelly I’ve ever had in my life I “borrow” from my roommate whose mother freezes quarts of it every summer. This fall, many students here will stock up a healthy supply of ground venison as well as venison jerky
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Not only do these foods taste awesome, come cheap, are free of hormones, antibiotics, pesticides, etc… but I can rest assured I won’t find any fingertips or other foreign objects from a factory chopped up in it.

The benefits of eating local (this includes your own backyard) are indisputable. Not only are there health and environmental benefits, when it comes to food a certain sense of pride must come with being at least partially self-sustainable.

This doesn’t just apply to things you can grow. It can also apply to animals, particularly wild game. I give props to hunters for choosing to eat wild game – possibly the most humane and eco-sustainable meat.

Think about it: compare a deer to a cow or a chicken to a pheasant. The domestic animal eats food provided with human labor, are fattened with grain grown with the aid of petroleum-based fertilizers and gas run machinery which is then stuffed with antibiotics and growth hormones.  These animals are bred artificially, crammed together in pens with their own feces as a floor, belch more greenhouse gases than they would if fed a more natural diet, then are killed and butchered in an assembly line.

On the other hand, the wild game finds its own food that grew itself out in the backwoods. Better yet, the wild game gets to reproduce how it wants to, which I’m sure is a far more pleasurable adventure than artificial insemination and are butchered in conditions you have control over.

Compared to the erosion and pollution caused by feeding and breeding domestic meats, consuming wild game has almost zero environmental impact.

You can make an argument that a lot of free range, smaller, organic ranches evade these horrors – I’m not saying all domestic meat is bad. I eat it. The point is that wild game is a decent alternative, not to mention a healthy, lean meat.

Preserving and storing food at home is an old practice which may possibly (or at least should be) gaining back some popularity particularly when people are more mindful about their money or concerned about what goes into their food.

Contrary to what I think, UW-River Falls student Heather Farrell feels that home food preservation is going out of style – not because the food doesn’t taste good, but because people just don’t know how to do it.

In fact, Farrell’s mom has been canning all summer including things like tomato sauce, pickled broccoli, salsa, peaches and apple butter. “It’s delicious,” Farrell said, “It’s the best.” Not only does the food taste good, and last forever, but Farrell claims that her family has given the food away as Christmas gifts, which is especially convenient when you are short on cash.

Eating local, healthy, organic food doesn’t have to stop when winter comes and the farmers’ market closes. All kinds of good foods can be stored by being frozen, canned, dried or stored whole.

Inspired by the bounty of the farmers’ market, benefits of local foods, need to save money and my increasing disdain for my own dependency on processed foods, I’ve decided to put on my Betty Crocker face and try my own hand at canning this year. I’m not an expert in the details, but with the help of Google I’m sure I can figure it out well enough to avoid botulism.

Root cellars are totally underrated. Basic food preservation isn’t just a practice form the pioneer days.  It’s a viable, practical way of life for all ages and genders – not just Grandma.

Kirsten Blake is an alumna of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls.