Saturday, February 27, 2010

Learning Food

Imagine drawing an exponential growth curve on a graph (hopefully this doesn't bring back any traumatic memories from high school Algebra). The curve meets zero and then slowly departs as you move to the right. Your pencil creeps upward, denoting gradual increase. Then, without much warning at all, the curve departs from rationality and begins a journey into the unknown of rapid, self-multiplying, growth. Infinitude is implied by the arrow you place on the end of the curve as you run out of paper. Where exactly the curve will lead, you're not sure, but it is accepted that it is important to follow.
You have just drawn my learning curve about a particular topic over the course of my life so far. This topic is absolutely central to every single human being and yet as my journey has shown me to date, we know sadly little about it: the food we eat.
The graph you still see in your mind is comprised of time (horizontal axis), and knowledge about food, its origins, its value, and its moral implications (vertical axis). Growing up, my mum (hi!) insisted on feeding me as much 'natural' and 'organic' food as possible (yes, I had to buy Fruit Loops with my own allowance money). I remember only really understanding that this meant I wasn't eating 'chemicals', whatever those were. My learning curve would gradually increase as I learned that my mum's whole wheat cookies were better for me than the Chunky Chips Ahoy, or when I found out that the eggs we ate came from the chickens I saw running around in my friends' yard (hi Molly!). But my learning was never intentional. I never really decided to ask the question "where does this burger come from and how did it get to my plate?" I also never intentionally tried to find the answer to this question and questions like it (its interesting and another blog entry entirely as to why these questions are even necessary in the first place seeing as how they weren't necessary a hundred years ago). But all that started to change about a year ago when the organization I co-founded, Revision International, started growing food with and for low-income communities.
I started off slow, reading "Omnivore's Dilemma", by Michael Pollen and watching "The Future of Food", a documentary directed by Deborah Koons. These confirmed for me why people got squeamish when I said I wanted to know where my food came from. They opened my eyes to the reality and horror of our modern-day food industry and what I learned will not let me close my eyes ever again. I have found that ignorance is not bliss.
The journey and learning curve continued with documentaries like "Food Inc." (Robert Kenner), "King Corn" (Aaron Woolf), and now is in full exponential swing with the book "Eating Animals", by Jonathan Safran Foer. Just as the arrow on the top of the curve your drew shows, this journey is far from over and is only gaining momentum. Where exactly it leads, I don't know. I hope that it involves opening others' eyes though. I hope it involves advocating for more knowledge, more transparency, healthier food, and more quality lives. I hope it contains more learning.

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