at the risk of seeming ridiculous…

We Are What We Eat

Posted in written thoughts by Charles on October 21, 2007

“If we speak of a healthy community, we cannot be speaking of a community that is merely human.  We are talking about a neighborhood of humans in a place, plus the place itself:  its soil, its water, its air, and all the families and tribes of the nonhuman creatures that belong to it.  If the place is well preserved, if its entire membership, natural and human, is present in it, and if the human economy is in practical harmony with the nature of the place, then the community is healthy.”

Wendell Berry, Conservation and Local Economy

We all know the process very well.  Sometimes it happens during a lecture.  Sometimes it happens when we’re studying.  Sometimes it just happens.  It is this natural phenomenon we all like to call hunger.  Our bodies naturally need proteins, sugars, carbohydrates, etc.  And to achieve equilibrium, we eat.  Now, most of the time, this is a very mundane process for most of us out there.  Our stomachs grumble and we fill it.  If you’re anything like the average college student, it’s usually done with haste and in between classes.

Granted the circumstances most of us are in, I would assume that many of us don’t take those extra few minutes to actually sit there and think about the origin of the food that is sitting right in front of us.  Do we stop and think about how that piece of bread began as a seed that was planted?  Do we think about the cultivation of the soil that gave rise to the wheat?  Do we imagine the process from which the wheat is picked and gradually turned into dough, which is then baked into the wonderful, delicious treat that we so lovingly place onto our tongues?  If you do, then I must commend you.  But if you’re anything like me, there’s hardly a second thought.

I recently attended American Pie.  It is a quarterly program put on by UCSD’s International Center where they take international students to various locations around San Diego and beyond.  Each quarter has its own theme.  This quarter’s was on sustainability.  As a result, we attended two organic farms, the San Pasqual Academy in Escondido and Sage Farm in Hemet.  The latter of the two allowed us to plant strawberry roots.  Personally, it was a wonderful experience.  Knees on the dirt, fingers pressing the roots into the wet soil, breeze brushing against your face, and the sun providing its warmth.  But more than the actual work itself, it was incredible to be able to plant something myself that I knew would be eventually eaten by someone.  Furthermore, I knew that it would in no way be harmful to that person because no foreign chemicals were used.  The process was completely organic and nothing that was ecologically unfriendly was introduced.

This made me ponder about food itself.  I wondered exactly what I choose to put into my own body.  I wondered if I knew what sorts of chemicals were used on the produce that I buy at the grocery store.  I wondered about the breeding and raising practices of the meat I consume.  On a deeper level, I wondered what the affects of the agricultural economy that I support on a weekly basis are doing to its surrounding environment.

We don’t really seem to think about these things on a meal-to-meal basis anymore.  The reason is simple… we have lost our imagination.  We don’t get to actively participate in the cultivation of our own food.  This may be a relief to many of you who dread even getting close to dirt, but for the others, we’ve forgotten the centuries old wonder of turning wheat into bread.  And somewhere in that process, we’ve also forgotten how interconnected our food is to our local environment.

We live in a globalized world.  It is a world where we no longer are intricately connected to the soil upon which our nourishment comes from.  Our veggies no longer come from Escondido.  They come from Chile.  Things are produced in mass quantities.  And with anything done in overhaul, we must think about the sustainability of its ecological surroundings.  When we over-produce something to feed a country from a particular area, we kill the soil.  When we kill the soil, the community, and its surrounding economy, dies as well.  Now this is a scary thought not only for American farmers, but also for their global counterparts.

Now that environmental issues are somewhat of a fad, we have more liberty to discuss these sorts of issues that will profoundly affect us in the years to come.  But like with any issue, it must survive the media hype in order for it to substantially change anything.  Put simply, we don’t need another Al Gore.  We need a critical mass.  So I ask you to join me in something.  When you sit down to eat your next meal, take about a minute and ask yourself, “Where exactly did this come from?”  And if you’re still intrigued, ask, “How was this made?”  This act of questioning may not change the way we steward the environment today, but it is a step in changing ourselves.  It is a step somewhere.  And like the great writer Flannery O’Conner once wrote, “Somewhere is better than anywhere”.


*Published in Common Ground, a newsletter for UCSD’s Cross-Cultural Center.


One Response

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  1. dzziziziziiii said, on October 22, 2007 at 02:49

    thats cool u finally got to plat strawberry plants. whenever i ask you to invite plants at my house, u say no because u have to record something.

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