Tag Archives: food access

Don’t Call Us Foodies

22 Feb

I know I’ve dangled this subject multiple times, and thought it was time to finally tackle it: why I (and many, many others) so strongly dislike the term “foodie.”

My good friend Steve wrote me, as a post-script to his “How I Became a Food Advocate” story, this explanation:

I cringe at that term.  It seems so contrived and pretentious.  People who care deeply about music are not called “Musicies” and people who love theatre are not called “theatreies.” I am not a foodie in the sense that I go to restaurants all the time and ooh and aah over the food of this chef or that.  I am a foodie in the sense that I am OBSESSED with food.  I think about food, and my next meal, and the next thing I can cook, and the last thing I cooked, and the next thing I want to eat… ALL THE TIME.  Does that make me a foodie?  I don’t think so because food is not a hobby for me.  Food is life.

I couldn’t agree more.

To my mind, foodie is the way that people who want to dismiss food’s importance use to dismiss the new food consciousness as elitist. These are the people who don’t understand the real and meaningful connection between defending local food markets, supporting artisanal producers and experimental chefs, and food as an issue of labor rights and social justice.

Foodie implies a gourmand, a snob, a high-brow eater who dines only at five-star restaurants and turns up her nose at anything cheap. What that distinction fails to recognize is that there are a great many of us in between, people like Steve and I, who I know grew up eating a lot of that cheap food–Kraft macaroni and cheese and cans of sloppy joe mix, among other delicacies–who ate it for a great portion of our lives, and who have begun to realize that the evils of that food are not limited to a low price tag.

In fact, the evils and dangers of processed food, industrially-produced, premade, water-packed food, lies in what the corporation who made it will do to sell it to you at such a low price tag. What it takes to make food that cheaply is not pretty. It is disgusting.

But foodies don’t turn up our noses at it because we think we’re better than that–we think all human beings are better than that.

And this is the core of why I dislike the term “foodie.” Aside from being intentionally dismissive, from making us sound like elitists, it limits our passions about food to its taste or quality. While I certainly do believe there is a significant difference in taste and quality between fresh, healthy, local food and processed food, my tastebuds are not my only — or even my primary — reason for wanting that fresh food.

My body is my reason: keeping it fit and healthy and fueled. My planet is my reason: supporting its ability to support us, keeping its rivers clean and soil invigorated with nutrients.

My concern for social equality is my reason: supporting everyone’s ability to access organic, healthy, whole foods, and supporting everyone’s ability to cook it. My concern for labor rights and fair trade are my reasons: ensuring that this whole, healthy food comes from a long line of whole, healthy people, who feel respected and are well-paid for the hard, crucial work they are doing.

My imaginary future children are my reason: protecting their future bodies and the future air they will breathe from poisons.

This is why I’m trying out the term “food advocate” (make it happen, people). Because I advocate for food in every way — its growth, production, taste and uses. Food is in every aspect of our life. As Steve said, food is life.

What do you think of the term “foodie”? Love it, hate it, never cared this much to think about it? Leave a comment and share your thoughts with your fellow food advocates!

Nibbles: What We Didn’t Eat This Week

3 Feb

Quite a variety of happenings in the world of food this week.

The Good

An illuminating new report out by the cooking & nutrition charity Share Our Strength provides concrete evidence that low-income families do cook at home more often than they eat fast food, and would like to be able to do so even more. I like Marion Nestle’s coverage, as she’s not afraid to nod towards some of the corporate influence the report contains. Good news, nonetheless.

Colorado is considering a state-wide ban on trans-fats in school lunch programs. Colorado is also, interestingly, the least-obese state in the nation (you can’t really say “thinnest” in a country where obesity is over 30% across the board). Coincidence?

In more school lunch reform news, the USDA announced this week its new rules (yes, actual rules here) that will increase the amounts of fruits and vegetables, and eliminate some meat requirements in its school lunch program. As Mark Bittman says, imperfect as the new rules may be, 32 million kids are about to start eating better.

Jane Black has a nice piece in The Washington Post discussing the rise in flexible CSA options. While I think her editorial brushes off the consumer benefits of a regular CSA too dismissively, I’ve loved my past flexible CSAs for the access they provided someone who couldn’t afford a full share.

The Bad

This article isn’t bad so much as slightly annoying. A new study out of the Washington State University purports to help reform the beef industry’s image by claiming cattle ranches are significantly more environmentally-friendly than thirty years ago. File under — yes, and…?

I mentioned one lawsuit Monsanto is currently facing. Here is another! A class-action case that claims the company spread toxic substances all over a town in West Virginia in the course of producing a chemical component of Agent Orange. The toxic substances listed are mainly dioxins, which have been linked to cancer.

and the (very) Ugly

The Humane Society of the United States (which has, in the last few years, done a really impressive job ramping up its advocacy of livestock animals along with homeless pets) released a new undercover video documenting standard pork industry practice for raising pigs.

Graphic images included.

Tom Philpott’s analysis cuts to the core:

The remarkable thing…is how banal it is. What we have here is the everyday reality of pigs’ lives on a factory farm, without regulations flouted or spectacular violence committed. It is abuse routinized and regimented, honed into a profitable business model.

The video even got NYTimes sustainability blogger Andrew Revkin interested. He’s got a response from the Oklahoma Pork Council (which suggests that images were “taken out of context,” leaving me to ask — is there a context in which these practices are acceptable?) and takes the opportunity to wonder if this might continue to make the case for test-tube meat. Not if the omnivores here on We*Meat*Again have anything to say about it, right?

Happy Weekend, All!

 

Nibbles: What We Didn’t Eat This Week 12/15

16 Dec

I owe all you We*Meat*Again readers an apology. In the whirlwind of new job, new place and new revisions on the book that has been this semester, and especially the last month or so, my blogging performance has been spotty. As I head into winter “break” (during which I have to plan three new classes for spring semester and continue said revisions) I promise to focus on quality, even if that means a solid, consistent three posts a week instead of five short, fragmented ones.

If you haven’t noticed a change in the blog, well, then, nevermind.

The first things I want to shape up are my sadly out-of-date “What I’m Reading” page, which I will tackle this weekend, and to get into a more consistent rhythm with the end of the week links roundup posts. There is a lot of great writing out there on food, and when I miss a links post, you all miss a lot, too.

So here are some things worth checking out between/instead of holiday shopping this weekend.

A cool NPR feature on an increasing focus on the local in America — while not exclusively a food-related story, I think the food movement deserves a lion’s share of credit for re-popularizing small, local businesses.

Related: a reminder from the USDA blog that many farmers’ markets are still open throughout the winter (maybe even at a different/indoor location) so check your local listings.

In rabble-rouser news, AlterNet has good coverage of the food movement on Occupy Wall Street that I wrote about earlier this week. Barry Estabrook’s (always) gorgeous prose in the latest Gastronomica describes some of the ecological innovations of the San Joaquin Valley.

And in rabbles that need rousing news, Perennial Plate continues its online documentary series with a subtle, powerful photo essay of tomato workers in Florida.

Food Safety News’ Michele Simon writes on Grist in response to the First Lady’s recent decision to shift the “Let’s Move” campaign focus back onto exercise and away from eating habits (a decision I personally feel is largely motivated by politics–rather than engage in a national conversation, the Obama administration wants to shy away from accusations of becoming a “nanny state” during an election cycle).

This is particularly relevant in light of recent findings detailing just how cozy the national school lunch program is with the food processing industry, and the serious health consequences this relationship is having on our children. I’m ALL for increased activity in youth, but to very pointedly ignore diet in favor of exercise only is disingenuous.

Inequality in Our Food System

12 Dec

A few events, some louder than others this week got me thinking about just how unequal our current food system is. The protestors on Wall Street are angry because income disparity leads to a disparity in political representation and access to education, improvement, etc. The food system, as it currently exists in this country, has the same results. The poor stay poor (and less healthy), and the small farms fail, so that the large corporate farms may survive.

In fact, the first event this weekend that reminded me of the parallels between food and finance was the first major gathering of farmers at Occupy Wall Street. Jim Gerritsen, president of the Organic Seed Trader’s Organization, spoke to The New York Times last week about why he’d be making the journey from Maine to join the protests:

He said farm gate prices — wholesale prices for farm products, excluding transportation — were the lowest he had ever seen. “And the price of food in supermarkets is higher than it’s ever been. So, farmers are hanging on by their fingertips, and consumers are paying through the nose.”

“The money that gets made in between,” he continued, “is going to companies, and the government isn’t doing anything about it.

“And if it goes on like this, all we’re going to have to eat in this country is unregulated, imported, genetically modified produce. That’s not a healthy food system.”

*

Gerritsen’s quote is so valuable in that it reminds us that the current system of wholesale food distribution harms both producers and consumers. Just as big finance is constructed to continually insulate those in positions of power, to reward and encourage their risk-taking on the backs of a working class who suffers when these high-stakes maneuvers fail, so too is the food systm constructed to encourage consolidation and cheap growing methods that cause higher prices for less healthful foods.

And the people suffering most are the consumers with the least.

*

The second event was much more quiet, in terms of news coverage anyway, and much more disturbing. After a seven-hour stand-off last week, a woman in Texas shot her two children, and then herself, in the head. The reason? She was at the end of her rope, having repeatedly been denied food stamps by the state.

She and her children bathed in hoses outside of their trailer park. She begged at the back doors of restaurants for their food waste scraps. But her child support payments were greater than her expenses, so she was deemed able to care for her children without assistance.

Clearly, this was not the case.

*

Last Monday, at a campaign event in Iowa, GOP presidential hopeful Rick Santorum promised to significantly reduce federal funding for food stamps, citing the nation’s obesity crisis as evidence that the program was being fradulently misused.

If hunger is a problem in America, then why do we have an obesity problem among the people who we say have a hunger program?” Santorum asked.

I had to re-read the last part of the sentence a few times to fully understand what it meant.

Set aside for the moment the complete lack of understanding of the roots of the obesity crisis (a significant increase in the consumption of certain types of foods, such as refined sweeteners combined with a sharp increase in the prices of whole foods due to the above mentioned consolidations) that this quote shows. Set aside for the moment the reality that SNAP has actually been proven to help grow the economy by protecting the poorest consumers.

I think it’s important to take a minute to address what Santorum meant by “among the people who we say have a hunger program.”

Maybe I’m wrong. But I’m pretty sure what he’s saying there is that poor minorities tend to be those receiving federal nutrition assistance, and also tend to have the highest rates of obesity. I think what he’s saying is, why do black people need food stamps when they are already so fat?

*

Santorum isn’t wrong. According to the most recent data, adult obesity rates for Blacks and Latin@s were higher than for Whites in at least 40 states and the District of Columbia.

Why? Do we believe, as Rick Santorum seems to, that this is because black and Latin@ people eat more? Are lazier?

Or could it be this: 35.3 percent of adults earning less than $15,000 per year were obese compared with 24.5 percent of adults earning $50,000 or more per year.

Could it be that we need food assistance from the federal government not in spite of increased obesity rates among the poorest, but because of those rates?

Could it be that our government’s food system, as its finance system, rewards the lowest-brow, cheapest, poorest-quality investment, and that the customers for those shoddy investments — in this case, mostly in the form of high fructose corn syrup and soda — are the least fortunate among us?

That those who have the least choice suffer the most loss.

*

Internet comments on stories about the Texas family are too cruel to replicate, but include standard lines about the selfishness, or laziness, or incompetance of a woman who would turn to such desperate (and indefensible) measures when faced with an 18-page form and proof of income and employment.

But of nearly $262 billion in farm subsidies paid by the federal government over the last fifteen years, the farms with the highest top ten percent in annual incomes raked in more than 74%. $165.9 billion. And no one is calling them lazy.

Corporate Vegetarian Food

8 Dec

I’m in the midst of a pretty serious overhaul of the working manuscript of The Vegetarian’s Guide to Eating Meat, a process that is involving the second major rounds of cutting/rewriting to the book in the few years I’ve been working on it. This go-round involves the extrication of much of the research elements of the book–or at least a reframing of them as personal revelations.

So I thought that perhaps some of those segments might work well here on the blog, where the research may be new or at least interesting information. Let me know what you think of this one below, and perhaps I’ll make a trend of this. Scenes from the cutting room floor…

(Fellow Ithaca College alum may recognize some details…)

My first meals as a vegetarian, eaten in the crowded, generically-decorated dining halls of my college, were prepared by Sodexho. These dining halls were palatial, and would have impressed any dorm-dweller. One house had a vegan station and another a kosher station (with on-site rabbi), complete with separate kitchens and staff. All held tin warming counters polished to a glisten, swinging heat lamps hung down low over the chafing dishes of hot entrees, a sandwich bar, a salad bar, a soft-serve ice-cream machine, and lots of choices. We could choose from three different dining halls, including one with a waffle station and a fountain, or another that was open until midnight during the week. They were staffed by latex-gloved, hair-netted blue collar employees: small, frail women with thick glasses, men with big biceps, faded tattoos, edges softened with time, young Latin- and African-American men, fresh out of high school, who were not students at this college.

I didn’t know then that Sodexho, the 22nd largest employer in the world, pays their food service workers as little as $8.27 an hour to reheat frozen bags of soup and spoon them out to college students and elementary schoolers, to wash our dishes, to stock our salad bars, to fill our ice cream machines, to swipe our cards at the entrance. Since Sodexho employees are only needed during the school year, most are essentially laid off during the summer months, and are not guaranteed their positions will be available in the fall. I didn’t know that the HMOs Sodexho offers their employees cost more than a quarter of a full-time income. That Sodexho posts annual profits in the hundreds of billions. That their most lucrative source of income are the private prisons they operate, including ones they contract with the U.S. military to build and run on foreign soil. That most of the Sodexho workers making my on-campus food would have qualified for federal anti-hunger programs.

*

In the Campus Center Dining Hall, at the vegan station, there were these veggie burgers, made with brown rice and black beans. I imagined them soft in someone’s hands, rolled around and flattened, the way my Nona’s raw meatballs felt in my palm before they were baked. Burgers tossed onto a slatted grill by a twenty-something guy with flowers on the backs of his hands I could just barely see through the gloves, then wrapped in red-and-white-checked paper and placed in a cardboard container, next to the side of the coveted sweet potato fries. We loved the Sodexho sweet potato fries, the perfect layer of corn-syrup crispy on the outside, a delicate crust that broke open into the soft, tanning-salon orange flesh of the fry, always just this side of too hot, crumbling and sweet.

We would sit in circles around tables, us white college kids, and talk about serious things, about free trade and facial piercings, and shove whole handfuls of these sweet potato fries into our mouths. I was happy to let someone else do the cooking.

Why Local Food Works (And Doesn’t)

6 Dec

When you spend as much time reading food news coverage, you start to see the same stories cycling through over and over again. Not through any fault of the food writers or activists, but from persistant misconceptions about local/organic/vegetarian issues. One of the stories that just won’t seem to die is the myth that organic sustainable agriculture can’t feed the world. But as I reported last week, local food gets a similar bad rap. So I thought I would gather together some of the information available from food policy experts to explain why local food does work as a systematic means for feeding many.

First, let’s look at the basics of demand, the backbone of any sound economic decision. The USDA reports a consistent rise in the number of farmer’s markets operating across the nation, which certainly has risen to meet demand.

Given this reality, the USDA has commissioned some recent great research as to the limitations of local food markets. Why, the research asks, if demand is increasing, does local food still account for a relatively small segment of the food market? First, the report discovers that the share of the market is growing even more exponentially than the number of markets (so the number of markets are increasing, but so is the amount of money spent per market).

The smaller trends that emerge from this report, however, are where the most promising aspects of local food systems live:

  • 81 percent of the farm selling directly to consumers are small farms (making less than $50,000 a year) — so locally spent food dollars are more likely to support a small business
  • Farms that sell locally employ an average of 13 fulltime employees for every $1 million in sales, as opposed to just 3 fulltime employees per million in a globally-producing farm. So locally spent food dollars support four times as many workers (who, given the above, are also more likely to be members of the local spending economy as well).
  • Vegetable, fruit and nut farms dominate the local food markets. Not corn farms. Or soybean operations. So a locally spent food dollar is more likely to be spent on actual food, not global commodities trading.

Finally, the USDA report also addresses the main causes of hinderance on the local food economy, all of which can be addressed, and many of which would have additional positive economic and environmental benefits. Primary among these are access issues. Local producers are hampered by a shortage of processing facilities — an issue that especially affects local meat producers who often have standards for their meat processing. But potential customers for local foods are hindered both by an absence of information networks to find the local food and of transportation to the market or farm stand.

Which means local food has the potential to expand into other local industries, to encourage investment in the local economy and to increase community connection and involvement. These are the “inefficiencies” that concern local food nonbelievers–but they are actually opportunities.

Mark Bittman’s column this week illustrates a great example of how all this potential can come together to begin to shape an entirely new way of thinking about food. Local sourcing gives us the ability to reimagine our food system — to find new models for producer and consumer communication, or to work with integrative, biodynamic growing practices. These new models of buying and selling and growing food will be the future of a world with less oil.

I think the people who assert that local food can’t possibly be a solution are the same people who say we shouldn’t invest in renewable alternative sources of energy because none of them are efficient, affordable, or high-yielding enough to replace fossil fuels. We’re dealing with a paridigm disconnect. I don’t want the industrial food system to just be replace with a locally-source food system that produces and distributes the same products in the same way anymore than I want enough solar panels to power the entire United States.

Local food activists, just as renewable energy researchers, want a new system, a decentralized, smaller-scale system that never has to utter the phrase “too big to fail.”

Nibbles: What We Didn’t Eat This Week, Inspired by Food Day

28 Oct

This week, on October 24th in particular, the United States celebrated our first ever Food Day with events around the country including cooking classes, garden planting and awareness-building campaigns. The notion behind Food Day was to model the highly successful Earth Day campaign to help the food movement transcend social and political boundaries. Here’s to many, many more, and the development of a fully realized movement as part of the general public consciousness.

In the spirit of Food Day, then, here are some links from around the web where we can all get our food consciousness raised.

Promising (if somewhat far-off) trends for the future of food this week coming out of Maine and Chicago, where politicians (or their wives) are finally beginning to take action for food. At a Let’s Move! food desert summit in Chicago, first lady Michelle Obama made a pledge to eradicate food deserts in the U.S. by 2017. And in even bolder legislative news (I know, right?), Maine Congresswoman Chellie Pingree announced a bill of sweeping structural reforms that would break down existing barriers and build infrastructure for small-scale local producers.

Pingree’s legislation is particularly remarkable for its recognition that these reforms would provide a much-needed boost to local economies. An essay by Tammy Morales this week explains the connection between job creation and  small-scale food entrepreneurs. A saying about two birds and one stone comes to mind…

Similarly, Mark Bittman reposted a letter from George Faison, New York area meat wholesaler, making the case to restaurants why investing in slightly more expensive organic, sustainable products is worth it in the long run (both economically and environmentally).

Let us not forget, however, that there is still work to be done. As a follow-up to last week’s mention of the House hearings on the Interagency Working Group’s recommendations to reduce junk food marketing to children, Marion Nestle posts a breakdown of how the talks are going. And it’s looking more and more like the agency will cave, giving up bits of even its relatively toothless voluntary regulations.

So keep up the pressure on your representatives, people. I promise you, Tony the Tiger is this decade’s Joe Camel. In twenty years, it will look ridiculous that we ever allowed our children to be sold this way.

Nibbles: What We Didn’t Eat this Week

21 Oct

This week was a tough one for me from an activist perspective. A few major things happened that brought to life connections I knew (abstractly) existed between corporate system control, climate change and the devastation of our food system. And side-by-side with those events, a few news items about those corporations clinging desperately to the old world order, refusing to acknowledge that anything has to change.

Let’s use links to walk through some of this together…

It all started when the island nation of Tuvalu ran out of water. We officially live in the post-climate change world, folks. An entire nation is currently surviving off of emergency aid water. Sure, it will be awhile before these kinds of consequences reach the soils of industrialized nations, but it’s coming.

The consequences of global climate devastation we’re already beginning to see hit our food and water supplies first, and hardest. For the full connection between food and geopolitics explained, check out Lester Brown’s great article from this summer’s Foreign Policy food issue.

Then, you can read Frederick Kaufman’s accompanying article to learn how speculative commodities trading led directly to the current food crisis, banging its head up against climate change in what will — I’m not being hyperbolic at all here — be a global disaster of magnitude.

And yet… a new report by Food & Water Watch this week demonstrates that, rather than federal subsidies, the deregulation of commodities markets leads to an overproduction of “junk food” crops.

And a consumer advocacy group filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission over PepsiCo & Frito-Lay’s use of “deceptive and unfair digital marketing tactics” to promote junk food to kids in direct violation of the FTC Act.

And Monsanto is selling an 1950s-era pesticide, rife with dioxin, to farmers whose superweeds can no longer be defeated with RoundUp.

All of which makes me want to scream: A country ran out of water on our watch this week, people! This is no longer business-as-usual.

Eating Well on Wall Street

14 Oct

It’s becoming increasingly difficult to ignore the Occupy Wall Street movement (as it has certainly become more than an individual protest now) and I find this pretty rad. I could certainly go on about just how inspiring it is to finally see my generation standing up for something, and to finally see this whole social media experiment working to some positive mobilizing effects, many many people have already written about it and have done so much more articulately than I could.

But I thought I’d use this week’s link roundup post to feature some of the great writing that’s been done connecting the food movement to the Wall Street uprising.

Civil Eats had two great posts today: one on the connection between the anti-corporate sentiments of the protests and the food movement, and another on the push for social equality in food justice alongside corporate accountability.

Similarly, Tom Philpott this week writes about the misperception that agriculture isn’t big business, and takes the Farm Action Bureau to task. It’s heartening to see smart people finally calling out Big Ag as the corporate lobbying powerhouse it is.

I wrote last week that I believe the social justice aspects of the food movement were perfectly compatible with the desire for good, artisanal food, and I see the two pieces coming together in Occupy Wall Street in a way that’s really promising for the future of the movement. The Food Committee has developed a pretty fancy makeshift kitchen in the park, full of donations, many of which are from local and/or socially-conscious businesses.

GOOD magazine has a really cool short piece on the symbolism of protest food, launching from pizza on Wall Street.

Word is, the city of New York plans to remove the protestors this weekend, at the request of the park’s private owners. We’ll see how this plays out, both on and off Wall Street. But if you were waiting to help, to contribute, to participate, now is the time. Get your activist on!

Foodies for Affordability

3 Oct

This past winter, Scott showed me this essay from The Atlantic, a sprawling piece whose central complaint is that foodies, by caring too much about food that tastes good and is artisanal in its production, are not as morally superior as we would like to believe. Myers, a vegan and member of the Green party, suggests that true moral superiority lies only in vegetarianism, a diet whose virtue is its smaller carbon footprint and accessibility.

I didn’t agree with Myers then, and I don’t now, but I don’t want to talk here today about the problems with his assertion in favor of vegetarianism (though I will sometime). Mostly, I want to refute the growing notion that being someone who cares about food that tastes good and is well-made is incongruous with social justice.

*

Recently, I mentioned Slow Food USA’s $5 Challenge. If  you missed the earlier post, the idea behind the $5 challenge was for at-home chefs to host local potlucks featuring a meal that was produced with local, sustainable food for less than $5 per person — less than the cost of the average fast food value meal.

Just the act of organizing such an event is evidence enough to suggest that people can love food and want everyone to be able to afford it. But a recent Bittman column mentions an underlying value to the style of education at play here. By asking people to open their homes and share meals, Slow Food was not simply sponsoring an act of charity, but rather one of sharing domestic knowledge. Some people know how to buy and cook real food — usually by a happy coincidence of birth, culture or household income — and how to do it without breaking the bank. Why not get a bunch of people together and show how its done.

This is a reassertion of a formative American value. Think of times past when this kind of communal domesticity was a necessity — the victory gardens of World War II, the trade and barters of the Depression-era tent cities. In the midst of the United States’ Great Recession, what could be more equal-minded than a return to the exchange of ideas and goods, than placing that exchange not in a public sphere of speculative financial trading, but in the home itself?

We’re not talking about selling $17 loaves of bread at the Orange County Farmer’s Market. We’re talking about people all over the country doing something as simple and as meaningful as opening their homes to their neighbors to share.

And the people doing the sharing are us snotty, elitist foodies.

It seems to me than it’s people who care first and foremost about food’s quality that are responsible for making the larger social connection between quality and sustainability, quality and health, quality and social justice. Without foodies, we might continue to believe the myths that local food is more expensive, or that cooking is for rich people with the time to care, or that poor people don’t have the luxury of real food.

A response to this notion that gourmands can care about both food quality and food equality might ask why we split our energy at all. Why not prioritize access and affordability to real food over anything else? Why worry at all about frivolous expenses like supporting local butcher shops or artisan cheese producers. Let’s get some damn vegetables on everyone’s table, first, whatever it takes. Microbrews later.

Why care about food that takes more time to make and tastes better, too? My answer is because people have to want to eat better to succeed at eating better. Our brains are wired to trick us into eating junk food, and we’re working against decade’s of corporate marketing. Deciding to cook again requires working against urges that have been long embedded in our bodies and our psyches.

And if your only experience with a head of lettuce comes from the wilting basket on the counter at the corner convenience store, and its been sitting there for a week and was shipped halfway across the country (or globe) before that, that lettuce is going to be gross, and you are going to buy the bag of Doritos for a side dish instead.

*

At the beginning of our very first graduate workshop with him, my future thesis advisor Ben Percy passed out little slips of paper with the same Harry Crews’ quote printed on each one. They read:

“You have to go to considerable trouble to live differently from the way the world wants you to live. That’s what I’ve discovered about writing. The world doesn’t want you to do a damn thing. If you wait till you got time to write a novel or time to write a story or time to read the hundred thousands of books you should have already read — if you wait for the time, you’ll never do it. Cause there ain’t no time; world don’t want you to do that. World wants you to go to the zoo and eat cotton candy, preferably seven days a week.” 
I’ve kept that piece of paper, in binders and tacked up on office walls and now, next to a bowl of water on my writing desk, as a reminder that, fundamentally, everything in this world worth doing takes hard work to do. Yes, I’m saying that I think even Harry Crews would have felt the way I do about being a foodie (though he surely would have despised the term foodie as much as I do).

I’ve learned that it’s worth it to take that time, but I know that I was lucky to be able to learn that lesson. I know not everyone has the schedule that I do, or the bank account I do, not everyone comes from a family that values food and family dinners the way mine did, that not everyone has a family member whose dietary needs got all of ours in check at a very young age. But we’re talking about a shift in cultural priority, and that kind of shift has to start somewhere.

It starts with me. It starts with each of us not being afraid or ashamed of caring about food, not hiding our dietary desires, and not accepting the elitist labels the corporate world wants to stick on us. Foodies are the people out there who can teach us that this is worth it, but yes, we have to do it against a current social stigma that suggests that having this kind of time is selfish, indulgent, or for rich people. That’s not the truth – that’s industry marketing. Make more time for cooking by watching less TV (and, seriously, I love tv). Cook with your family.

Foodies may have originated as people who just really preferred market bread and raw oysters, but they have evolved. Because people who value quality know that you have to value the person who produces it. They celebrate the farmer and the soil, and above all, they celebrate knowing where your food comes from and what it takes to get it on the table. If we all cared about those things, we’d have a better, smarter food system, and that system would be capable of producing food we could all afford.

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