A few weeks back, a beloved dairy was considering using GMO corn to feed their cows. (They were considering, that’s it. Not doing. Just rolling around the idea of doing. So don’t get all crazy that I bring this up again. I have a reason.)
Anyway, this farm’s milk is the milk I drink every day. The milk I go out of my way to buy. I go out of my way because I believe the dairy to be clean — To be making milk that is just milk, from cows who can be cows and not mini-production facilities here to serve man.
And when I hear the news, well, I felt like my carefully curated world of food was collapsing; when I am able to choose what I eat, I care that deeply about what I choose. Food, frankly, often scares the crap out of me more than it delights me. The landmines of industrial beef I would to face at dinner with friends, the tuna of murky origin that filled the sandwich I bought when I was out of the house and hungry, the whole meal of food I needed to finish when I ate a restaurant where I didn’t — really — know the chef. But I felt he was watching my plates to see what I didn’t finish.
And over time, my phobias have grown with every beef recall, every peanut scare, every news explosion about pink slime or the horrors of “polluted” industrial organic food. It’s no wonder, really, that I have a blog called “backyarditarian.” I really, mostly, like to just stick to what I grow.
Fast forward to nowish and lo, I am knee deep in a new world.
I’m chatting with folks who are experimenting with half GMO corn in their field this year because the corn borer just might be extra virilent this year, since winter wasn’t winter at all. You know, I can’t blame the guy. Really.
I am in discussions with an industrial dairy man about why I can’t get raw milk. He talks about safety. I respond that hormones don’t feel like an industry concerned about safety. We’re hashing it out.
And I am in a bizarrely frustrating discussion with the guy I now refer to as the Gordon Gekko of Meat. It is, really, the first time I am at close range with the mentality of money and profits that drive industrial agriculture. I’m asking a lot of questions. He doesn’t seem to be answering. I am sure he has something useful to teach me and I’ll keep needling him until he starts fessing up.
All of that is a long way of sharing what I really learned in the last few weeks: We are so busy digging trenches for the war that we are forgetting that food is about community. In the process, we ignore and sidestep the kind of progress that could lead to real change. For all of us.
Because change is going to come from us, banding together. Not faceless corporations spontaneously transforming from greed to good like Ebenezer Scrooge. Not the government, not ever will it be the government, I dare say. It has to be us.
So this is the crazy (I can’t believe he agreed to it) project that we, Grant Kessler and I, are going to mount:
One Hundred Meals: building community at America’s table
Here’s our idea:
Grant and I are going to embark on a project to explore farms and tables with one hundred meals. Some big meals. Probably some meals that are sorta just snacks because there wasn’t time for much else. All sorts of meals at all sorts of farms and around all sorts of tables.
Part of the name came from the 100-mile trend a few years back — which you either consider a trendy frivolity or a serious attempt to take control of one’s food supply. To me, that is the foodie side of the equation.
The other part of the name comes from the growing season — the give or take 100 days that farmers here in the heart of the country have to grow crops. That’s the farmer side of the equation.
We’d like to tie the two sides together with some integrity and open dialog. So, as we go along, we’ll encourage everyone to share their questions and concerns so we can pass them along. And, since we are a community and not just two people doing this, we hope you’ll chime in often.
There will be hard questions, though I promised Grant that I will attempt to keep my emotions in check. There will be the chance to learn that everyone involved in food, really, is a person with a story and a dream. Since Grant is such a talented photographer, there will be lots of great pictures. And since we both want to explore food outside our comfort zone, there will be lots of stuff that may surprise all of us.
I read a lot about food, food policy, exposés about slaughterhouses and the realities of the USDA. So, yes, I am informed. But if there is one thing I have learned in the last 5 days or so it is that I am really scarily ignorant. We all are — because our divisions are strong and strident and leave no room to learn.
I guess in our own way, Grant and I are hoping to see if there is a bridge or two we can build, somewhere, if we approach this openly.
So, despite our radicalness or fanatical tendencies or zealotry, we’re both deciding it is time to open up and learn. To find new sources for information and discussion. To listen a bit to the other side and see where they are coming from — and why.
To, well, become more a part of the community, instead of just our community.
I doubt I’ll come out the other side of this project with some GMO seeds in my pocket to plant in my own garden. But maybe I’ll stop hating the guy who decides that, after last “winter,” half a field of GMO might be the only way he can hope to grow anything. Maybe, too, I’ll develop some compassion for that Ohio pork farmer mom who, of course, deserves an honest hearing of her views.
The 1,000,00 chicken lady. Wow. Well, I can only hope we can at least figure out what makes each other tick, even if, in the end, we agree to disagree. (At the breakfast, I couldn’t even agree to that — to disagreeing with her. In retrospect, I can’t even understand what that meant!)
Because you know, for most of us, everything we read and every conversation we have tends to support everything we already believe. It’s great, don’t get me wrong, to be right all the time. But, well, maybe finding out where you are wrong can make the new right that much, well, rightier.
I suppose we both, Grant and I, would like to explore our food shed, for a time, in the spirit of the Nash Equilibrium — an expression of game theory where, in order to win, each person in food needs to make choices that contribute to everyone’s welfare.
After all, food is not a zero sum game. We either all win or, frankly, we are all going to lose.