Marci Miller and Greg Freistadt’s lives revolve around food. From growing it, to cooking it, to cultivating their days around it — food has become part of their lifestyle.
Just blocks from downtown Moscow sits Deep Roots Farm — “a small farm in the city.”
Miller and Freistadt began their operation in 2012. The farm, which generates produce year-round, boasts various greenhouses and individual gardens for specific produce and sits on just one-third of an acre of land.
“We pack in tight,” Freistadt said.
Miller and Freistadt, both University of Idaho alumni, said they found their start with the Cultivating Success Program — a program which offers educational tools and support to future and existing farmers.
After selling food at the Moscow Farmers Market and traveling around the Pacific Northwest to other community markets, Miller said they notice what people look for in their food.
“What we are seeing is a lot of people going back to a whole food diet,” Miller said. “Whole foods being as close to the source as possible. So, with animals that’s nose to tail consumption and with produce that’s straight out of the ground — if possible.”
With a whole foods mindset, Miller said both she and Freistadt noticed they had intolerances or allergies to some foods. The only way to curb these meant starting from scratch.
“Going to the store and buying food wasn’t fun anymore because we had to read every single label,” Miller said. “That’s how we started farming — we wanted to know what was in our food.”
In growing their understanding of food and farming, Freistadt said he and Miller spent over a year in Thailand. There, they learned how deeply culture influences the human relationship to food and brought back with them a new outlook.
“The exciting thing for me is looking at different cultures and using the food we grow here to make those different meals,” Freistadt said.
As more people look to tailor their diets, Miller said many find it helpful to buy straight from the source and embody a farm-to-table relationship with food.
“I think we are going to find a heightened sense of people wanting to learn to farm as they learn they have certain food intolerances or just want to create a different food lifestyle,” Miller said.
Brennan Smith felt such a strong relationship to food, he made a career out of it. Smith, an assistant professor in the UI School of Food Science, teaches the “Science on Your Plate” course.
Like Freistadt, Smith finds an interest in understanding different lifestyles and how food interacts with those.
Although science and certain diets, like vegetarianism and veganism, play a large role in what Smith teaches, he said the cultural and historical relationship people have with their food comes in at a close second.
Much of the information is derived from the chemistry of food, food labeling, nutrients and most importantly, culture and food itself.
“I like teaching how food and culture play into each other,” Smith said.
You can tell a lot about a person by what they eat and how they relate to what they eat, Smith said. People are influenced by many things, he said, but food has always been the most prominent.
Smith said one quote explains the individuality of the human relationship to food best, “Tell me what you eat and I’ll tell you what you are.”
Preserving the environment
When Mary Alice Taylor began living a vegan lifestyle two years ago, she said the switch was an easy one to make, especially if it helped the environment.
“The main driver for me going vegan was that I actually started learning deeply about the environmental impact of the meat industry,” Taylor said.
The second year UI student was first a vegetarian. She said her vegetarianism stemmed from advocating for animal rights.
Four years later, Taylor took her passion one step further and completely cut animal products from her diet, hoping to impact the environment on a small, daily scale. Taylor said she even emphasizes her educational coursework in climate change.
Though, neither of her dietary lifestyle changes happened overnight. Taylor said research became her best friend when planning for the dietary change. Keeping the possibility of nutrient deficiency in mind, she set her sights on meticulous meal prep and lifestyle videos about veganism.
“My biggest fear was not getting enough vitamins,” Taylor said. “But, I’m healthy and happy with it, so the planning and research all worked out.”
Veganism, however, does not only translate into Taylor’s eating habits. Taylor said she strays from wearing animal products or utilizing products tested on animals. Attempting to live a zero-waste lifestyle, Taylor avoids animal products by making her own beauty products and purchases clothing items ethically sourced.
For Taylor, her relationship to food has changed over time, but her views remain the same.
“For me it’s those positive affirmations,” Taylor said. “The main reason I stick with it is because that’s my biggest passion in life — trying to preserve the environment.”
A way of life
Like many shoppers, when Jacob Johnson peruses the grocery aisles, he glances at the price tag. Unlike many people, however, Johnson meticulously inspects the ingredient label on the back of each item.
Johnson, a UI alumnus, began living a gluten and dairy free lifestyle when he was just 9 years old.
At the time, Johnson said it was rare to find this sort of dietary restriction in children.
“I didn’t have as much energy as the other kids and I was sick pretty often,” Johnson said. “Gluten free wasn’t even a term at the time.”
So, Johnson and his parents looked to an allergy specialist. It was then that Johnson learned he had celiac disease, a disorder in which the digestive system is abnormally sensitive to gluten — a protein commonly found in foods with wheat and barley among other grains, according to the Mayo Clinic.
It was expected, however, that Johnson would “grow out of it.” To an extent, he did.
“For a stretch during college, I tried to ignore it — even though I functioned a lot better without (gluten),” Johnson said.
While Johnson said his tolerance evolves, the symptoms still persist.
“When I go shopping I look at every single label,” Johnson said. “Even though it can get a little cumbersome, it’s just second nature by now.”
Johnson knows to steer clear of some foods completely, while others take more research — especially those produced where wheat is present.
Continuously searching for new ways to plan and prepare gluten and dairy-free meals, Johnson said the internet is a good place to start when changing one’s lifestyle.
“You would never be thinking about this otherwise,” Johnson said. “Other folks have learned the hard way. So, hit Google and learn the healthier way.”
Connecting with food
Since childhood, nature has been Max Anderson’s grocery store.
“Hunting is not about the biggest trophy,” Anderson said. “At the end of the day, it’s about getting meat — it’s about feeding the family.”
Anderson grew up on meals such as deer stew and quail meat. While wild game is not common to everyone’s palate or plate, Anderson said it has always been part of his lifestyle.
“I’d rather eat dear than beef or chicken,” Anderson said. “It takes more time and effort — you don’t just walk downtown and purchase your pre-cut deer.”
Though the first-year UI student has been hunting since childhood, Anderson said he took the time to cultivate his craft and only takes what he calls the “ethical shot” — a clean shot. “The worst feeling in the world is shooting an animal and then watching it suffer — that’s where the ethical shot comes in,” Anderson said. “The animal provides the meat for you, and you have to provide the respect when you’re in its home.”
Anderson said he realizes the unfortunate reality that some hunting practices give lifestyle hunters, like him, a poor reputation.
As a college student, Anderson frequents the grocery store more often than the outdoors, but he said his way of life still thrives.
“I feel more of a relationship to food and animals I think,” Anderson said. “I get that rare experience of being out in the wild and connecting with the food I eat.”
Interacting with food
Lauryn Lanterman never planned on becoming vegetarian — “it just sort of happened.”
The first-year UI student recently made the change to vegetarianism. While she rarely eats any sort of meat products, Lanterman said it has quickly become a lifestyle she never knew she wanted.
“It wasn’t all that difficult to make the jump into the vegetarian world,” Lanterman said. “I sort of just decided I didn’t want to eat meat anymore.”
However, Lanterman said her decision to stray from all meat products means she can focus on helping animals.
“Seeing all the images of what kinds of things happen to animals and how they are treated — I think that’s a large underlying reason as to why it was so easy for me to cut off ties with meat,” Lanterman said.
With a quick switch, Lanterman said she initially trained her body to acclimate to protein sources other than meat.
“Your body just kind of knows when it needs energy,” Lanterman said. “Being vegetarian makes me think a lot more about what I’m putting into my body and how I interact with food on a daily basis.”
Many students that walk into Marissa Rudley’s office look to create a lifestyle that works best for them. Everyone, the UI registered campus dietitian said, requires something different from their relationship with food.
“It’s a process that is personal, individualized nutrition that really takes into account a person’s background, health history and food preferences,” Rudley said. “I like to work within those unique and individual characteristics.”
Rudley said many students are interested in learning about food, as it pertains to healthier eating habits. However, Rudley said she recognizes that what is healthy for one person may not be healthy for another.
The standard American diet — largely comprised of proteins, fats and sugars — involves varying nutritional gaps, Rudley said. But even the “standard” in the American diet is not so standard for everyone.
“There is no one food or nutrient — which is my personal philosophy and backed by research — that is bad or unhealthy,” Rudley said. “It is the total eating pattern that can produce negative effects on the body. With that comes — inherently — some balance,” Rudley said.
Nutrition is complex, Rudley said, because everyone has different reasons for why they eat what they eat — culture, environment, historical eating experiences.
Rudley said every relationship to food is nuanced — a private and rather personal area of life.
“Everyone interacts with food in such a unique way,” Rudley said. “When we stop to think about the context of why we eat what we eat, I think it is fascinating the things we can learn about ourselves and about one another.”