People today are becoming increasingly passionate about the food they eat and where it comes from. There are extreme examples of this everywhere.
Being passionate is a good thing! But, we live in a world of specialization in which we allow segments of the population to focus on one task (i.e. food production) so that the rest of us can be engaged in other pursuits. It is still important for all of us to understand food production and know where our food comes from. Here are my top reasons you should care:
- Knowing where your food comes from bridges the gap between farm and fork. The United States has one of the world’s safest supply of food. But that food system relies entirely on trusting the people that were involved along the way. We have to trust the chef who prepares the food (if we aren’t eating at home). We have to trust the farmer who produced the food. We have to trust the grocery store who sold the food. And dare I say, we have to trust the corporations that might have been involved in processing or transporting that food. We have to trust that they have our safety as a top priority and that they care about the quality of the product that they are providing to us. At the end of the day they still need to make a profit and so we sometimes question their motives. But incredibly, each segment of the chain finds economies of scale and how to maintain the U.S. food supply as the cheapest in the world. As Americans become further removed from that process of farm to fork, that trust gap widens. So it is important for us all to know and understand the process that connects farmers to consumers.
- In the words of farmer and writer, Wendell Berry, “Every time you make a decision about food, you are farming by proxy.” We should care about what we are putting into our bodies. Health experts promote a varied diet that is balanced. We should be looking at ingredients lists. We should be concerned with our overall health and what is in our food. But, there is more than one way to crack an egg which means we should each be seeking out a diet and lifestyle that works for us as individuals. Organic might a solution. Gluten-free might be a solution. Cage-free eggs might be a solution. But, none of those solutions should be implemented across the board as the silver bullet (gluten only affects less than 5% of the population). Only by being educated about the system and then understanding our own personal needs can we make informed decisions and farm by proxy.
- Anyone who has seen Food, Inc. might have a jaded view of agriculture. The media thrives on the hype of a food safety problem, the scandal of a corrupt corporation, and the fear of a newly discovered hazard. The negative of our food system gets far more air time than the positive. When was the last time you saw a news story covering the fact that more than 300 million Americans had three meals a day all produced by only 1% of that population? It isn’t news because it happens everyday. Movies like Farmland show the everyday farmers who are making the best possible decisions to put food on their tables and yours without the media sensation and hype. Is there room for improvement in agriculture production, yes. Do we still have a problem with food insecure people in America, yes. But the bottom line is that we are working hard to continually improve. Changing the system and production practices for the better.
- Food is a part of our culture AND a part of our economy. It is really hard to separate these in discussion because our culture is so emotionally driven. We want food to be safe and delicious. But, the economic discussion appeals to our logic. We want food to be affordable. Researchers utilize technology to address both of these issues and the conversation becomes murky. The safety of GMOs has been proven time and time again. But, fear of the unknown makes us continue to question them. Will we ever find the balance in the conversation?
We each play a part in this debate. And there are things that we each can do everyday. Here are a few things that you and your family can put into action.
- Learn about some of the history that created our modern food system. I recommend An Edible History of Humanity by Tom Standage.
- Meet a farmer. Ask them why they do different things on their farm. It makes for a great family outing.
- Tour an agribusiness or research company. They aren’t always open to the public for tours, but school groups and educational groups regularly take tours. Try to accompany one of them.
- Buy things in season. This helps minimize transportation costs and can be healthier and more flavorful produce. Try this handy food miles calculator.
- Take a cooking class and learn how to prepare more things at home. This can be a lot of fun and you’ll have more ownership in what you eat.
- Ask questions! The more you know, the better.