Give me your poor...

“Give me your poor, your tired, your huddled masses…..”

…and watch me ruin their health.

Sitting cross-legged at my maternal grandparent’s feet during family gatherings, I never tired of hearing them recount their “Coming to America” experiences. My favorite scene was their description of standing at the feet of Lady Liberty, while my grandfather read “Emma Lazarus poem, The New Colossus. Unfortunately, the meaning of both poem and “Lady Enlightenment”, her proper name, are now controversial, with some contending she was never designed as a welcome mat.

At the time my grandparents arrived, America was courting people exactly like them – people who were educated, self-sufficient and would further strengthen, rather than weaken, the fabric of life. Their values and religion were not foreign, their God the same as the One worshiped by Founding Fathers. They didn’t come empty-handed, but instead, brought along one newborn baby, a few dozen neighbors and friends of the same culture and language, and together, built their new lives.

Within a relatively short time, the strangeness wore off, replaced with the routine of everyday life – the “old way of life”. Grandma butchered chickens in her suburban St. Paul backyard, just as she’d done in Germany. The site of headless chickens running through freshly laundered sheets wasn’t a neighborhood rarity.

She routinely replenished perpetually-fermenting 20-gallon actively-bubbling sauerkraut, stored in her root cellar. Making daily bread, as well as weekly Apfelstrudel, its delicate dough stretched paper-thin across the diningroom table, were more than comforting routines to strangers in a strange and not often friendly land.

These were traditions – foods of traditions that were more than emotional, but were life itself. Intuitively, my grandparents had a much better sense than generations that followed, about the value and healing power of real food.

Their six daughters grew up, wore bras (something Grandma refused to do, considering it for “fancy women” who didn’t sound like anyone we would know), had weekly hair appointments, found husbands who “provided”, had children, and went on to live the 1st generation American dream for which my grandparents had sacrificed. Not a single one of them breast-fed their baby, jointly voicing the opinion that was “for farm women, the poor, or hippies.”

Chickens were purchased, neatly wrapped with clear plastic wrap, from large, brightly lit chain grocery-stores. They were driven home along with a week’s supply of other food, tucked into well-stocked refrigerators. Making cakes from scratch, much less the hours involved in making Apfelstrudel, were unnecessary “busy work”, my mother and her sisters’ appetites more easily satisfied by Betty Crocker, General Mills, and the pleasingly plump, Pillsbury Doughboy.

They were determined to be “thoroughly modern women”, of which much has already been written over the last few decades of Women’s Studies.

They’re without understanding why I, a 2nd generation college-educated, career-woman would want to turn back the hands of time, staying home and home-schooling, rather than shipping my children off to government schools. The final insult to their way of life, is that I make all my food from “scratch” rejecting all processed foods. Actually, come to think about it, the FINAL insult to their sensibilities is that I avoid grocery stores at all costs, instead, buying grass-fed meats, fresh pastured poultry, and drink raw milk, all fresh from local farms.

The farm life that they all tried to avoid, is now front and center stage of my life even if I don’t live directly on a farm. I love self-sufficiency in all things, believing myself to truly be a Free Person dependent on Providence.

I suppose I’ve always been confusing to them as I’ve not been one easily swayed from what I view as being “right”, staying firm in my commitment, to this deep sense of “knowing” that I am on the right path. Daily, I encounter research that proves, going back to the farm – back to fresh, organic, properly raised food – is the path from which no one should ever have strayed.

It comforts me to know my grandparents would enjoy sitting at my kitchen table, sharing my food. They would understand what their daughters do not. I know my food would be familiar to them, to their “old ways”. And I would like to think that after tasting my traditionally-made sauerkraut, which science has proven to be one of the super foods of the planet, they would turn to me and say, in their heavy German accent, “Come here, Sharon, ve vant our hug.”

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