How did we eat before regulations?

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A publication sits on my desk regarding regulations in the holistic food market, with all sorts of subsets of considerations listed in a long article.

If our great-grandparents saw the headline, I have a feeling they would find it a very puzzling take on a family’s daily diet. Three meals a day made it to the table generations back without any single regulation attached to any dish served.

My great-grandfather loved to go fishing, never wanting to quit until there was enough in the bucket to feed the family a good supper. Family stories of this fellow walking barefoot to the creek with his fishing pole and a bucket of bait have been passed down by various members of the family, some retelling it with a smile while others voiced a quiet disdain. Fishing wasn’t considered work in any light, even if it did put supper on the table.

My dad, raised in part by this grandfather, recalled walking along with him to the creek, though he never found the same thrill in fishing that his grandpa did. Sometimes on the way to the crystal clear water, they would spot flint or arrowheads in the fields, if the ground had recently been worked up by the farm horses.

The young boy picked up each one he spotted and put it in his pocket, even though his grandfather grumbled about the worthless old flint.

While grandpa fished, those who tagged along might busy themselves searching for elderberries or wild raspberries, carrying home all they could hold. The bounty was always shared, sometimes baked in to a cobbler, other times turned in to jam to be enjoyed on warm homemade bread.

If the day’s catch was a good one, not only would fresh fish be on the evening’s dinner plate, but even breakfast the next day would be worth getting up for. Fish eggs, fried just right by a grandma who knew how to cook ’em, accompanied the chicken eggs the young boy had gathered the day before. Milk from the family cow was served fresh as could be.

Butchering without regs

Butchering day was practically a community festival, with people of all ages pitching in on the work and the feast. Not a single part of the meat was wasted, and my great-aunts and uncles spoke of pickled tongue and pickled brain as a favorite treat many years later.

There was no one regulating just where or when a fellow could butcher, and packaging was left for the crew to figure out. No one had to proclaim that this food must be sold or consumed by a certain date, because everyone had the good sense to know to can it, pickle it or eat it before it went to waste.

Yearning for sassafras

One home-made item my father spoke of often was bottled sassafras tea, sweetened with real cane sugar, which had to be bought at the store in town. His mother had special pint glass bottles for this delicacy, and it was an enormous highlight back in the late 1930s, before soda pop was part of the landscape.

Dad remembered the day he was big enough to be given a bottle all to himself, not having to share with younger siblings. What a special treat!

Food and drink was never taken for granted, because each person except for the very young had played at least a small part in bringing it all to the table. No labels were required, nor a regulatory commission, for the consumer knew and appreciated from where it all had come.

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Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, and three grandchildren.

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