Throughout history, we’ve used stories to explain who we are, phenomenon in nature, what matters to us, and where we come from. Knowing and telling the story of food is no different; we all need reminders to pay attention to the stories behind every bite of food we take.
Today, many many children have little to no “food literacy;” an awareness of their food’s story. To these children (and countless adults as well), the story of food begins at the grocery store and ends in their bellies. Food comes in a box, food comes in a can, food is frozen and then reheated. Meals take less than 10 minutes to prepare. Once food is eaten, the story is over.
The Food School disagrees with this representation of food in today’s culture. Rather, we believe that not only does every bite of food have a story to tell, but that the story matters. Each food story includes when, where, why, and how every food item gets from where it was grown to your dinner table plus the multitude of steps in between and then back to the Earth again.
Take for instance the story of a corn cob grown on an industrial monoculture farm vs. that of an heirloom tomato grown on a small mixed crop organic farm. Not surprisingly, the stories behind these two vegetables differ wildly despite both being part of a larger food system that involves growing, processing, transporting, selling and eating each item (corn and tomato).
The corn’s story begins on a corporate farm in a mono-crop field. The story involves chemical fertilizers, huge plants where the corn is processed, 1,000 mile journeys via fossil-fuel burning vehicles, and mega-sized retail companies. This industrial food chain works well; it’s efficient, makes massive amounts of inexpensive food available, and offers customers yearlong variety that small family farms cannot. However, there are costs to this system. Chief among them, costs to the environment, people’s health, and even costs to the farmers who get paid an average of just 9 cents of every food dollar spent.
The heirloom tomato’s story reads a little differently. The tomato represents a food item which is part of a local food chain. The farmer that grows the tomato does so organically, without the use of pesticides or fertilizers. Transportation distances are markedly shorter since this farmer sells his produce at a farmer’s market 10 miles from his 5-acre farm. The farmer also gets to know the people who eat his tomatoes since he has face-to-face conversations with them every Saturday as customers browse the farmer’s market booth. In the tomato’s story, the farmer receives the majority of every food dollar spent, and he has the opportunity to reinvest it in his own farm.
For adults and children alike, connecting to the sources of our food enables us to make a better choices about what we put in our mouths, how much money we spend on our food, and what we’re actually supporting as we spend our food dollars. For children in particular, connecting to the sources of food in a more up close and personal way- through farm visits and growing/harvesting/prepping whole foods for instance- allows them to have a relationship with a community member (the farmer), connects them to land and the rhythms of nature, teaches them essential life skills, and expands classroom learning. As the quote from Baba Dioum says, “In the end, we will only conserve what we love. We will love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught.” In today’s world, we must teach the story of food. Understanding this means everything. Food connects us all, regardless of social standing, ethnic group, or religion, we all must eat. The food we choose matters. Let’s get to know our farmers. Let’s get to know our food.
Source for some content: Nourish Curriculum Guide @ WorldLink, developed by The Center for Ecoliteracty