It’s summertime again, that magical time of year when everything in Michigan is green and growing – and not just trees and flowers, but food! One of the best and least appreciated things about living in West Michigan is how large and extensive our local foodshed is. Farmers here grow the usual corn and soybeans, of course, but they also grow everything from fruit to grains and vegetables. They raise all sorts of livestock: cattle, sheep, pigs, and chickens. West Michigan companies brew their own signature beers and make wine from their own vineyards.
For foodies who appreciate fresher, farm-to-table fare, there are a number of options as well. Every year new West Michigan farmers emerge and offer CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) shares to people who wish to make an investment in fresher, healthier, more environmentally responsibly grown and raised food products. Gardening enthusiasts have tilled land in the city and on college campuses (including here at GVSU) to create community gardens where both food and relationships are nurtured. And, of course, there is always the Farmer’s Market. Here in Allendale, our Farmer’s Market is open every Wednesday from 10 AM to 1:30 PM from now until October 28th. It offers students and staff a chance to purchase fresh food, listen to local musicians, and learn to cook better by participating in monthly food demonstrations.
Many students come to college not knowing much about food: how it is grown, what its nutritional and nourishing value is, or how to prepare it in ways that make it enticing to eat. Living in the dorms doesn’t help. Apartment living is often the first exposure young people have to the mystery of cooking for themselves, but it doesn’t have to be a mystery. It doesn’t have to be intimidating at all. People all around the world manage to prepare tasty and healthy food dishes every day from limited ingredients, and you can too.
Start off by going to a food demonstration. This could be one offered at our local Farmer’s Market, or it could be in a cooking class, online, or even hanging out in a friend or family members kitchen at dinnertime. Try new foods, and pay attention to what is in them and how they are made. Libraries have shelves full of beautiful photographed cookbooks, but you don’t have to do very much searching online to find great recipes to try. There are even apps available that tell you what you can cook with the limited ingredients you have on hand.
Don’t be afraid to improvise or bring other people into your food experiments. A good beginner’s rule in the kitchen is, “Don’t cook on high heat,” but there aren’t many hard and fast rules. Many people don’t cook from recipes at all. After you’ve spent some time chopping, stirring, and sauteing, you’ll get a feel for your own cooking style as well as what you like to cook and how long it takes you to do it.
Cooking is a great social activity, and so is eating. So while the weather is nice, the pace is a bit slower, and the food is fresh, take advantage of all of this to eat better. Your body will thank you when it’s time to start the fall semester.