News flash: I love my family, my friends and my dog more than just about everything else in this life. After that I’m mostly passionate about food. Not in the sense that I like to sit and cram the tastiest foodstuffs on earth into my mouth (although you can’t argue the fun in that), but in the sense that I want to know everything there is about food and the food industry: planting, harvesting, buying, cooking, sharing, eating – all of it.
In the continued effort to remedy my writer’s block/boredom, I bought some new books on the topic I’m most passionate about. The one I’m currently reading is “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” by Barbara Kingsolver. It chronicles her family’s journey of attempting to eat locally for a year. I’m only a few chapters in, but last night I experienced a familiar gut-wrenching sensation as I read. The last time I had that feeling was in January when I started reading “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”… halfway through part one I felt my heart sink and I sat in bed and cried. (Dramatic? Perhaps. But it had made me sad.)
I had been reading about a third generation farmer in Iowa, (my native state) whose grandfather used to feed both his family and his livestock through what was grown on the farm. As time went on and corn became the only real moneymaker, other bits of the farm fell by the wayside and consequently so did that way of life. This third generation farmer and his wife are no longer able to sustain themselves with what comes from their farm. You just can’t live on corn, no matter how many different chemical byproducts we can make out of it. In addition to this farmer’s story, I was saddened to read about the cows that once grazed freely on grassy pastures now being fattened with corn (which they are not genetically predisposed to digest) and confined in CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations). I felt an overwhelming sense of sadness and responsibility – sadness for a man who had seen an entirely sustainable way of life disappear from his family farm and for the animals living and eating in a way they were never meant to. I felt a responsibility to do something about it. And then I cried. It’s what I do.
So there I was, reading in bed last night, struck by a similar feeling of overwhelming sadness and responsibility. It occurred to me that not everyone is even remotely aware of the impact their food decisions can have on farmers, animals, the economy and the environment. It was only recently that I really understood the immense power we have when it comes to making decisions about food. I know I can’t fix the problem myself and I know I’ll never be able to convince everyone to think along the same lines, but I do think I can start by telling people what I know.
I recognize that there’s always another side to things. I also recognize that I’m an animal lover and sensitive to animal issues. And while eating meat isn’t my thing right now, I don’t have a problem with anyone else consuming it. I’m definitely no expert on these issues but I’m reading what I can in an attempt to learn about it. (My next read is about why we eat animals.)
Humor me for a minute though, and imagine a world where the environment is cleaner. The animals we eat are happier and healthier and consequently so are we. On top of that, starvation is practically nonexistent. Maybe there are fewer problems in the world because we’re all just so darn happy (okay maybe a stretch, but we’re imagining here.) Call me crazy but I think we can make that happen, and it all starts with something as fundamental as the food that goes on our plates and in our bodies.
P.S. For a visual, watch this commercial (courtesy of Chipotle). It may be one of the most thoughtful I’ve ever seen. And just try not to smile at the cute, happy pig at the end.