I have been a food worker for many years, though for a long time I didn’t know it. One of the reasons for this was that I was just a child. It’s not that I was very young. It’s that I was generally trusting, focused on assimilating the rules of my workplace rather than questioning them. Doing research inside of academia, I was sure that my goal was simply to further knowledge in plant science, unquestioning of the assumptions and goals related to “feeding the world” that were cut and pasted from one USDA grant proposal to another. I didn’t focus on the ways that academia and business function together, the ways that the worth of a line of research is evaluated in light of the needs of a corporate system of agriculture that is busy stocking our supermarket shelves.
When g was born and I felt the weight of providing a healthy diet for a growing baby, I turned into a teenager. I read about pink slime and BPA, antibiotics and processed sugars, atrazine, glyphosate and arsenic and I decided that NOBODY could be trusted to safely feed my child. I began to have delusional visions of growing and preparing all of our food by myself. Through a less than perfectly stable mentally outlook, I learned a lot about the things that are wrong with our food system. And I dressed in black with safety pins, colored my hair purple and brewed kombucha.
About a year ago I began working with a local organic farmer. Confident in my understanding of healthy soils and biological diversity, I was ready to MAKE A DIFFERENCE. And then I started to become an adult. I realized that it’s fine and dandy to want to do the right thing, a “thing” that is typically not difficult to understand but isn’t going to take you anywhere if you can’t also put food on your own table. I learned about the vertiginous climb that so many fresh-faced would-be food providers are facing when they step onto the field and find that their opponent is the colossal corporate food system, an industry so large and powerful that it has decided the modern history of entire nations, including, it could be argued, my own.
Now that I’m developing wrinkles, I finally feel like I may have a decent vantage point from which to see the big picture. The hormones have calmed but I can’t give up on all of the hopes and demands of the pimple-faced girl in the ripped anarchy t-shirt. Now that I’m an adult I’ve thrown an apron over that shirt because I think that there is something that I can do about it all. And that something is called dinner.
I know that it’s asking a hell of a lot of people who struggle enough just to get dinner on the table, many of whom are preoccupied with whether that dinner will actually be consumed by those who need it most, to also consider the implications of genetic technologies, toxicity profiles, carbon footprints and the treatment of agricultural workers. Life is difficult (and costly) enough! But if you flip that page over and recognize that the simple and obligatory decisions you make about the food you purchase can be a powerful agent for change in a thousand different ways all at once, you realize that dinner is power.
There are about a billion websites that write about the topic of food in some way. I know this because I read about half of them on a semi-regular basis. By joining the ranks I’m hoping to be able to use some of the time that I’ve spent obsessing about all of this over the years to help people make simple choices about what to eat.
I really do believe that small choices can have an impact. And beyond all that idealistic nonsense, even old farts need their outlets.