Human beings have sought control of their outside environments for millennia – and not without a great deal of effort. When Harry Hunter-Gatherer decided to alter the course of human civilization and grow a few hundred square feet of einkorn, it should be noted that the Extension Service was not just a phone call away offering advice and free soil sampling.
Today, the idea of fundamentally altering nature has eclipsed the pursuit of shaping her, and we now face a brave new world of genetically modified organisms as well as monoculture farming practices that beggar belief (and the bees).
The cost of such progress is the subject of hot debate. However, one must consider the needs of a growing population. 10,000 years ago, when Mr. Hunter-Gatherer went rogue, there were approximately ten million people on the entire planet. Today there are seven billion.
Seven billion people must be fed – by hook or by crook – and so the argument for these methods of production may be a strong one. But accepting this and choosing to eat differently does not mean that those of us who work tirelessly to promote healthy, nutrient-dense foods from local sources should be sidelined as ‘elites’ with extra money to throw around at high-end farmers’ markets.
There’s a lot more to it than easy name calling.
A few years ago, I found myself really pondering this issue at a symposium on Urban Farming Pioneers at Brookside Gardens in Wheaton, MD. An all-day conference, the symposium addressed the food needs of an increasing world population, increasing urbanization, and the lack of young farmers to take over the reins from a rapidly retiring farm force.
That was the doom and gloom. We also were presented with upbeat, working, community garden scenarios by Darrin Nordahl, author of Public Produce, and applauded loudly as Ben Flanner, urban-farmer extraordinaire, outlined the work going on at Brooklyn Grange – the one-acre rooftop garden in New York City complete with bees and chickens.
What a project! What an inspiring presentation! People doing what they could, where they were, to provide better food choices for themselves and their communities. People with limited funds and limited space connecting with their food and finding another way.
Many of us who think of food as an ‘issue’ would quite frankly like to get back to just thinking of it as food and not as an issue at all – but that’s tough to do when we reject the prevailing Western diet that relies so heavily on processed foods and the pharmaceuticals needed to keep it successfully digested.
For instance, I grow beans to cook beans as a cheap and healthy protein and fiber source for my family – not as a political statement or as a demonstration of my moral superiority. I buy beef a bit more expensively from a local farmer and we eat less of it, not because I wish to impress friends at dinner parties, but because the beef is not filled with chemicals and antibiotics, it’s treated humanely, and it preserves the agricultural way of life that I value so highly.
I can tell you there is nothing elite about my food budget – but it goes a whole lot further when one is shopping for ingredients, not results. How strange it is to me that consumers will search for processed, expensive foods touting labels like ‘non-GMO’ and ‘organic,’ when at the end of the day the food has been processed to within an inch of its life. That’s a disconnect that still makes me shake my head in bemusement.
You and I may not be able to solve the world’s food crisis by growing a vegetable garden, supporting local farmers and community gardens, changing our eating patterns and above all, learning to cook, but we can make a huge difference to our families, our communities, and slowly, to our health as a nation.
That is worth a little effort on our part, even if, at first, we feel just as inept as Harry Hunter-Gatherer did all those years ago.
Reprinted with permission by The Frederick News Post
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