Listening to the news on a daily basis, one might think there is little to be excited about when it comes to issues of food. Obesity is still on the rise, the wage gap is still widening, hunger still persists all over the world, including here, and the importance of healthy, fresh food for pursuing life, liberty, and happiness has been loudly ignored by the current president and his administration. On the face of it, things look grim.
As I worked on my dissertation just a few short years ago, I learned what food systems look like. I learned that the only way to ensure that everyone has enough food to eat is to organize local and regional networks of producers and distributors who communicate about seasonal changes in supply and demand. I also learned that making sure people don’t go hungry is only the beginning. Daily energy demands being met, what foods one eats matters a great deal for the value of life’s experience. Food fads aren’t always healthy. More expensive foods aren’t always more nutritious. Convenience is often a shortcut to junk. Ideally, a community will treat food as a necessary pleasure, a core aspect of culture as well as survival. It doesn’t take a PhD to realize these things, but for whatever reason I just didn’t care that much before working on mine.
This awareness exists everywhere. For all the fast food drive-thrus that litter our roadways, there are countless caring, committed, enthusiastic stewards of our local food systems. I’ve gotten the chance to meet many of these people in the past months as I’ve finally emerged from my hermitage and ventured out into society. I’ve met Master Gardeners and sustainable farming advocates, economists and ecologists, teachers and lifestyle coaches, cooks and ministers, all passionate and driven to help people better understand the importance of food in every aspect of civilization, how to acquire and prepare food for oneself, and what strengths and weaknesses exist in the current streams of production, distribution, and consumption. They love each other and our community. They see what’s right and wrong with current policies and the limitations on self-determinism. They are eager to tell their stories and improve their surroundings. These people get it.
So if you ever feel deflated and defeated by the prevalent cynicism of misanthropic dialogue and political leadership, remember that progress rolls uphill. Go out and meet people who are doers, people who work toward solutions rather than dwelling on problems, people who enjoy playing in the dirt and sharing their treasures. Their optimism and energy is contagious. We’ll all benefit if this enthusiasm continues to spread.