Blog | July 31, 2008

Jen talks about knowing the story behind the food we eat

Nicholas Kristof has an op-ed in the New York Times today about the increasing opposition to factory farms. Kristof reflects on his farm upbringing, including the not-so-pleasant task of snatching the geese one by one for slaughter. He concludes the op-ed with a lovely thought about every piece of food having its story… but he fails to make the connection that as eaters we can control that story. We can choose to eat food that has come from a factory farm, knowing the story of that burger was that it was an animal that was cruelly treated, confined and kept from its natural habitat, habits, and diet. Or you can choose to eat a burger from a local farmer, a farmer you know and trust, a farmer who raises his or her animals in a way that jibes with your own beliefs about the way food ought to be raised. It’s true that every food item has a story. The point is we can choose to know that story or not. And we can change the way our food is raised and grown by knowing its story and only eating the food that has the story we want.

This translates into every piece of food we eat, not just animal products. Recently, tomatoes and jalapeno peppers have been in the news for possible salmonella contamination. First it was tomatoes, now we’re finding out it was really jalapenos, not tomatoes. Who can remember now which jalapenos? Were they from Mexico or California? How do I know which are which? And I see lots of peppers at the grocery store… how do I know those aren’t contaminated? How does anyone know if they’re contaminated – who is looking out for us? Never mind the immediate health threat issue… How do I know how the peppers were grown? Who grew them? What chemicals may have been applied to them and how might those chemicals affect me?

One way to answer all these questions is to get to know a local farmer, on their farm or at a farmers market. This time of year, in the mid-summer heat, peppers are everywhere! You can buy them directly from the person who grew them. The farmer can tell you when they were harvested, what kind of soil they grew in, what kind of chemicals, if any, were put on them. Based on this information, you can eat that pepper with confidence… because you know its story.

This confidence is a great benefit of knowing the story of your food. But you know what? There’s pleasure in knowing the story too. There’s joy in talking to the farmer, learning about the growing process, in sharing that information with the people you share food with. Think about it… food is such a huge part of our lives… it’s what keeps us going throughout the day, it’s what brings us together with our loved ones and friends, it’s how we relax and enjoy our lives. Why leave that to chance?

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