Dinner is not just fuel


I garden mainly because dinner is very important to me.  It has to taste great and be life-affirming.  And if you want either one, a vegetable garden is the way to go.

At various points in my life, my nearest and dearest have been unsettled to discover how serious I am about the evening meal.  When my husband and I were first married, he couldn't believe that I didn't consider a sandwich an adequate dinner when it was his turn to cook.  He was sincerely shocked at the degree of poutiness that resulted when there was no hot meal in the offing or he tried to use paper napkins instead of cloth. Twenty-three years later, he's mostly in my camp, though not yet on the cloth napkin front.

Here, in this wonderful five year-old Discover piece about the blubber- and meat-rich Inuit diet, a woman named Patricia Cochran offers the best explanation I've ever read about why dinner is important, particularly if you are deeply involved in the production process.  Cochran, an Inupiat from Northwestern Alaska, works for a group that
supports research on the impact of environmental issues like global warming on native cultures.  She says:

In our culture,the connectivity between humans, animals, plants,
the land they live on, and the air they share is ingrained in us from

You truthfully can’t separate the way we get our
food from the way we live. How we get our food is intrinsic
to our culture. It’s how we pass on our values and knowledge to the
young. When you go out with your aunts and uncles to hunt or to gather,
you learn to smell the air, watch the wind, understand the way the ice
moves, know the land. You get to know where to pick which plant and
what animal to take.

It’s part, too, of your development
as a person. You share food with your community. You show respect to
your elders by offering them the first catch. You give thanks to the
animal that gave up its life for your sustenance. So you get all the
physical activity of harvesting your own food, all the social activity
of sharing and preparing it, and all the spiritual aspects as well. You certainly don’t get all that, do you, when you buy
prepackaged food from a store.

That’s why some of us here in
Anchorage are working to protect what’s ours, so that others can
continue to live back home in the villages. Because if we
don’t take care of our food, it won’t be there for us in the future.
And if we lose our foods, we lose who we are.


  1. “Because if we don’t take care of our food, it won’t be there for us in the future. And if we lose our foods, we lose who we are.”

    Love that part – will have to tuck it away for when I get into discussions with others on everything from why I garden to the importance of buying from local producers. Simple & eloquent.

  2. This is part of a subject near and dear to me–how we can connect to the landscape. In a culture such as ours, it’s pretty much hopeless, isn’t it, particularly from birth on and on and on? I don’t want to go kill me food, but I don’t want it over processed. Our philosophies are not, and won’t be for some, tuned to the natural world. My students don’t even think beyond an apples to apples comparison–no metaphor, no outside the box, no how x influences x influences x. No time to think. No impulse to delve deeper. No instinct to connect any longer.

  3. Studies have shown that kids who eat dinner with their parent(s) every evening are less likely to get into trouble. It’s an important time to connect as a family unit. Unlike you, I don’t enjoy cooking, but I have tried to make sure that dinner was family time. My kids are grown now, and they are great guys. I don’t think it all was because of family dinners, but it didn’t hurt.

    I like cloth napkins, and they’re really not that much trouble. It’s not like I’m beating them on rocks.

  4. Don’t forget that taking care of your food also means only using natural, organic chemicals for pest control. Either make your own or save time and buy a pre-made organic spray like Safer End All insect killer.

  5. There’s not enough room (or interest) in the world for everyone to feed their own families but I think a lot is lost when people totally lose their connection with the natural world. Even a little veggie garden or a single fruit tree can go along way I think…

  6. Inuit people are truly amazing. Two years ago, I was working in Barrow, Alaska and was invited to a captain’s party. That is a whaling captain’s party where a whale is divided up amongst the community. It was a beautiful celebration of life and food among friends and family. I felt like an outsider, not know the traditional language or customs, but the people were welcoming to us, anyway. Wonderful post, Michelle.

Comments are closed.