Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Ma Ingalls: Food and Health

People who have their own food gardens have always been an inspiration to me. The idea that people can grow the food that they put on their table has fascinated me. To know exactly where your food came from, what went into the planting, gardening, growing is so amazing.

That is exactly how Caroline and Charles Ingalls lived. They knew and understood every item that entered their bodies. there were no ingredients that could not be pronounced and everything was made by hand, down to the tools used to make the food.

Caroline had a garden that not only supplied food for her family during their peak times, but which supplied enough for her to preserve for the winter when there was no possibility of gardening or growing food. Her forethought and planning were crucial to her family's survival.

Charles raised pigs and hunted game to supply the family with meat. The meat was completely wild. Even his pig was let loose in the Big Woods to forage until the late summer and then he was penned up to be fattened. Charles and Caroline knew exactly what was going into the pork that their family ate. The wild game was, of course, wild and ate naturally. Charles and Caroline cured all of the meat that their family ate and knew exactly what went into the process of preserving the meat and what was going into their children as a result.

Instead of eating in abundance when the harvest came in, they preserved the abundance for the future. They did have an evening of festivities and splurge where they celebrated the abundance, but then the rest went into the attic which held all of the smoked and cured meat, the canned preserved vegetables, honey, cheeses, and maple syrup. 

A healthy way of eating was naturally a part of their lives.  There was no Publix down the street, no Hamburger Helper, no quick run to the store for a package of ground beef. Forethought for what the family would eat, how much they could eat, and stretching it for the long winters helped Caroline feed her family every day. There was never an account of them going without a meal that I can recall- definitely not in the book we finished.

Part of their lifestyle was constant activity which meant no need for formal exercise. During a family vacation (years ago), we visited Stone Mountain in Georgia. The gentleman talking to us about the southern plantation we toured told us about the foods that the plantation family ate. To me, it seemed to be high in sodium, so I asked him about it. He went on to tell me that sodium was not an issue because of their level of activity. They burned off the excess sodium just by living life normally. We live in such a sedate society that we have to insert a formal exercise time in our day. Charles and Caroline walked. A lot. Caroline did not just toss her laundry in a machine. She had to do it by hand. Then she had to hang her laundry. She had to scrub her floors, weed her garden, churn the butter, feed the smaller barnyard animals, and manually make the foods her family would eat for months.

The family did enjoy sweets (my Achilles heel), but they were saved for special occasions. Therefore, the family did not over indulge in foods that were not good for them. Again, the family knew exactly what went into their sweets, and I am pretty sure their sweets were much healthier than the sweets we eat today.

Their food habits/choices/lifestyle were so fascinating to me, especially since our food choices have been so front and center in my own mind. Obviously, there are some things that are just not going to happen for us (growing all of our food, raising our own meat, etc.), but I can make some choices when I am at the supermarket and when I am planning our meals. I can make sure that my basket is filled with items that are as close to their natural source as possible (fruits, veggies, meats, seasoning herbs) and stay away from the processed and  premade/prepackaged items. I can limit sweets (eek!) to our family nights and make them myself instead of buying something that I cannot read the ingredients to. 

Ma Ingalls is my hero for so many reasons, but I really admire her for how she fed her family.


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