Saturday, August 25, 2012
WHERE FOOD COMES FROM
One spring day I stood before a roomful of 20-somethings and shared, with what I hoped was eloquence, a thought that inspired me. “To have hope,” I said, “is to see the evidence that one thing can be more than one thing, depending on how you treat it. Think,” I waxed, “of the simple egg. One day it’s an egg. You take it into the house, you add a little heat, and it’s a boiled egg. You can eat it for breakfast. Or,” I gushed, “you can leave the egg in the nest, let a bird provide a little warmth, and in only three weeks that egg will be a new baby bird.” I stood silent, a pregnant pause. This was the moment when the audience would flower under the dome of inspiration. This was the moment when they would see how every object that appears to be something can also be something else. But this was the moment when they refused to be inspired. “Ugh,” they said. “That is gross! Eggs you buy at the store have been specially treated. They would never be baby birds.” This, it turned out, was the moment when I inadvertently took the joy away from the eating of eggs. There was nothing left to do but change the subject and get on with the workshop which, until that moment of confusion, was focused on the topic of hope. I tell this story today because it helps to explain the thing I will be doing tomorrow—spending three hours on a bus tour of market gardens—learning where our local food comes from. It’s not that I don’t know where food comes from. I am a farm girl. I have dined on the finest 4H calves that, only a few weeks earlier, were led in the show rings by my school friends. I have helped prepare Sunday dinners by holding fat roosters so Mom could chop off their heads with an axe. I have scrubbed bushels of cucumbers for dill pickles, shelled pots of peas collected from the garden in milk pails, dropped seed potatoes into planting holes and retrieved from the plants the bounty they created. But I am also a city girl, and it’s several decades since I plucked a chicken or planted a potato. My city is growing, now placing buildings on some of our finest land which, many years ago was annexed to accommodate future growth. Tomorrow many of us will be taking an educational tour, supporting market gardeners in the view that a city is not only a place to eat food, but also a place to grow food. The people in my spring workshop who were not inspired by my egg eloquence may, or may not be on the tour. But I had gone wrong when I assumed that they understood and embraced the basic concepts of food production. This, it turns out, was not a valid assumption. Clearly we city dwellers, we who cast the deciding votes that determine how our cities will be structured, need also to be connected to the sources of the food we eat. Tomorrow I’ll learn something.