The Importance of Food

I just finished watching a great TEDTalk featuring Roger Doiron talking about gardening. It was sent to me by a dear friend who was in my Permaculture Design Course this summer, and came at the perfect time as I had just been drawing up plans and ideas for my parents garden that I will get a chance to work on this spring. Doiron Makes the argument that gardening is a subversive act. It is subversive because if people can grow their own food it is putting power back into the people’s hands and taking power away from big corporations. It is putting power back in your hands by giving you more control over your health, diet, and wallet.

Over the past several years food has become an increasingly important subject in my life. I myself am not what I would call a foodie; I will eat just about anything you put in front of me whether it is fast, slow, greasy, fresh, meaty, or vegan, and am probably only a little better than the average American, and far worse then my many foodie friends, when it comes to cooking and kitchen know how. But I do appreciate and highly enjoy good food, which is perhaps why I tend to find myself surrounded by foodie friends.

But beyond that, as I have been wrestling with the ideas of sustainability, community, and social change each strand I follow seems to bring me back to food.

  • If we can grow food sustainably that will be a huge step towards a sustainable earth.
  • In every community I have been in meal times are what literally feed the community.
  • If we want to create social change we first need to make sure that everyone has access to healthy, affordable food.

Food is a basic necessity of every single individual. Therefore, even if you are a microwave meal or McDonalds kind of person, you must interact with food each and every day. It may in fact be this, that food is a necessity, that is the ingenuity behind huge money making corporations like McDonalds.

And amazingly, it isn’t just the food industry that has found a way to make a profit off of our need for food; For every food calorie we eat it takes 10 calories of fossil fuel energy to produce that 1 calorie. This is in our highly industrialized food system of course, where petroleum based fertilizers are the norm and gas guzzling machines and trucks are used to process and get our food to us from thousands of miles away.

(Image taken from Roger Doiron's TEDTalk) Michelle Obama's White House Garden. Compare this to the image below...
(Image taken from Roger Doiron's TEDTalk) If the White House Garden were to be representative of our industrialized agricultural system this is what it would look like. Yes, we are subsidizing a system that is 80% soy, wheat, cotton, and corn and only 20% fruits and vegetables.

It seems that if we change our food system we would inevitably change much more than just our food system; We would effect global economics, global health, global happiness, and global sustainability.

So how can we change the food system to create positive change in all these areas? Doiron thinks the key is in encouraging and inspiring more people to grow their own food. That’s right, it might be as simple as growing your very own kitchen garden. You will eat healthier, feel healthier, save money, and be sticking it to the big bureaucratic corporate machine  all at the same time. And, you will probably be happier as being involved in your food tends to encourage community and connection to other humans and the natural world, which tends to lead to greater overall happiness.

I think this last part about community and overall happiness is why I have found myself continually coming back to food.

For me, being someone who grew up with a phenomenal cook as a mother and a father who refused to go to a fast food joint even on the longest, most remote stretches of highway where nothing else was available, I grew to desire and expect good quality, healthy, fresh meals. Perhaps it was this desire that led me to live in coop in college where home cooked dinners were part of every evening. Also, growing up with no TV dinners and coming from a Jewish family where holidays and celebrations often included large, elaborate, and delicious meals I was conditioned to associate food with good company and a time to connect.

For me, the kitchen always seems to be the center of the house. Whether you are preparing a meal, cleaning up after a meal, or chatting with the those who are cooking and cleaning while you wait for some tasty morsels to come your way, the kitchen is where people gravitate. The kitchen and food is also often where conflict arises; people have different dietary preferences, someone doesn’t clean up their dishes, and oh no! My leftovers that I was going to have for lunch are gone! But working through and resolving these issues provide important real life lessons in conflict resolution, community building, budgeting, cooking, cleanliness and more.

Well, this has been the case for me and the kinds of people I have gravitated to in my life. But this apparently is NOT the norm. In Doiron’s talk on TEDTalks he gave the astonishing statistic that the average american now spends only 31 minutes doing food related activities each day. This means 31 minutes a day cooking, eating, and cleaning up after meals! It seems a stretch to me to  even fit just eating 3 meals in that time, let alone preparing and cleaning up.

There is another reality out there where the TV room is the center of the house. In this scenario food is quickly taken from the freezer, microwaved and individuals sit silently eating their food in front of the mind numbing television. No time for family discussions of politics, news or current events, or for sharing of the trials and tribulations of one’s day.

Having grown up in a household and in communities where food and meal times were not undervalued I have been attracted to local food cooperatives and farmers markets to do my shopping; another social and festive way in which to interact with food. This of course got me thinking more on where my food comes from and issues of food justice.

The conclusion I have come to is that we need localized food systems. We need more people involved in their food, growing a more diverse array of food that celebrates and preserves more cultural diversity and holds communities together.

Having come to this conclusion I have decided to join the subversive gardening movement and start growing food in my parents yard this spring. I encourage you to do the same! Having taken a permaculture design course and studied agriculture at Cornell University I am well aware that growing food can be quite complex. But it can also be quite simple and you have to start somewhere. I myself have become a bit intimidated by complexity of academic analysis of growing food and “right” and “wrong” ways to do it but I have decided I have to start somewhere, so why not start with putting a few seeds in the ground? Maybe I will start a trend and before I know it the whole block will be filled with front yard gardens. And then before you know it neighbors will be interacting again we all find yourselves out on a sunny Saturday afternoon eating fresh veggies and pulling weeds. This could indeed be the way to revitalize community…

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