HOW IT BEGAN | OUR FUTURE IN FOOD
In early 2013 I read a book titled “American Terroir” by author Rowan Jacobsen which completely changed my life. At the time I had a very rudimentary understanding of the way food was influenced by its place in the world and the importance of working with what was close by, not only to express the beauty of my place on this rock but also to do my part in preserving local bounties while reducing the energy footprint required to bring food to the table.
Had it been any other author its possible I would not have been so enchanted, the rhythmic cadence and proficiency with which Jacobsen writes could mesmerize the most stagnate mind, but the facts were etched in to my psyche like hieroglyphs unlocking a key to some ancient knowledge that had been tucked away for centuries to hide a modern objective. The book laid out in plain fact the reason why things exist where they do, a fairly easy idea to digest if you slow down and take heed to your surroundings, something I and many others had forgone for years.
The book sparked a necessity to find truth in the muddied waters of the modern food machine. I pushed forward rapidly, seeking any information that could explain why I had been taught that ingredients must be conjured from around the globe to ensure that what I serve will be of respect and high regard.
The more I dug the more I repented. I felt ashamed, I had been taking part in a sacrilege of the most precious resource we have on this planet, sustenance. For years I followed blindly what felt like an arduous process to acquire sufficient ingredients to prepare a plate of food. Negotiating with vendor after vendor to find the “right” product, post service calls to an automated line or call center to order the next days supplies, battling prices of locally sourced products so that I could afford those high ticket items flown in from around the globe. All this in the name of dinner.
Questions raced through my mind, how was I so blind? How did we get here? How do we get out? It seemed clear as day that any one with even a small amount of compassion would damn the practices that had been used at wide scale if they knew the beauty they could attain in their region as well as the irreversible damage these senseless practices were imparting on the globe.
I started with the easiest to address, how was I so blind and how did we get here? To dissect these questions it is necessary to look at the history of civilizations consumption to equip yourself with a base before diving head first in to the nightmarishly entangled web of what is considered culinary arts.
The truth is we evolved on the coast, single celled organisms that wriggled our way to shore and adapted to breathe in air rather than filter water in to its respective parts providing us with the oxygen to survive. Shortly after this arduous journey we sprouted extremities that allowed us to wander more freely on soil, something abstract to us until this point which broadened our buffet of planetary offerings.
The consumption of mass amounts of Omega 3, which provide DHA (fundamental brain nutrients), through tide water foraging provided building blocks for brain growth in swift form. Our minds developed rapidly, in fact more rapidly than ever before and in any period after. Our newly forming brains sprouted seeds of curiosity, what lied beyond the border of the known? We wandered, each day a step farther in to the vast wilderness that lay beyond the cut of sand that had previously been our border.
Each epoch of our evolution breed a new level of confidence in our ability to stretch beyond our boundaries and develop new ways to function without the framework with which we had evolved. We discovered a vast landscape of edible life forms, probing at plant life to find consumables that did not poison, stalking prey to supply our needs of protein in the new vast playground we had discovered, and creating hand tools to make the jobs easier.
At the dawn of the agricultural era human beings discovered an easier way to supply the needs of their families. They found that if they tended to the land around them providing it with the necessities of life they could grow plants and foster livestock, the first form of domestication occurred.
In the era of early agriculture, when farmers woke in the morning their sole intention for the day was to provide life for their family and community through their land, a beautiful intention, one that I find lost in the majority of modern civilization and fear we may never fully return to in society. Food was created for the table based on the crop yield or what was in the larder. Harvest time was a joyous occasion of celebration and preparation, curing, cooking, preserving, and storing for the winter months. Trade was the currency in these communities neighbors relying on each other to provide each piece of the complete meal their family would need.
Inevitably with the advent of an easier way provide sustenance came oppression of those willing to work to produce by those unwilling. Conquest of land became the objective of those in power or on the rise. The subsequent taxation of these lands made it impossible for farmers to exist without dolling out the majority of their consumables to a gold encrusted façade of protection led by an imaginary connection to a power in the sky who would rain down hell fire if the peons did not comply.
The most basics necessities of life, Food & Water, became commodity. Large swaths of land were conquered and bought by men with no intention of waking up in the morning to provide sustenance through physical labor. Their intention instead was to utilize the needs of others to prosper.
As the new monetized system for acquiring calories developed and the world began to connect like the perfectly chained network of a spider web new methods were needed to keep premiums up. Faster production, more growth, longer shelf life, and of course “better flavor”. Under the veil of evolution science was employed to assist in what apparently nature had gotten so wrong, surely we could improve this outdated system of living, surely our large scale production was not at fault.
Year after year new technologies are born to better a process which nature perfected over millions of years. Wearing the mask of “necessary action” we employ tactics to evolve plant and animal life to its new home in small plots amidst the never ending growth of concrete jungle. Healthy land is covered by urban sprawl to allow more “comforts” to those willing to become subservient to the machine. From birds eye view this growth spreads like a disease eating cell after cell as it branches its arms to every outpost of life.
Our modern food system is a clear sign that we have entered Anthropocene. We no longer tend to the land we take from the land. We believe it unnecessary to care for the soil under our feet because subsidized scientists have told us they are building a future for us that doesn't rely on natural resource, implying we have somehow figured out genome sequencing sufficiently to replicate an evolution that we still don’t fully understand. We are at a point of terminal velocity and the masses must take action to make the change.
It is possible to return to some sort of local reliance, if we learn to appreciate what we have and not what we think we need. This does not mean closing the doors of “explorative eating” rather saving those experiences for when we are actually exploring. Like our ancestors when we trot the globe, which is now much easier than bipedal roaming, we can take in new sights, smells, sounds, and tastes. We can savor each experience so much more because A: it is in its proper set and setting B: we don’t have instant access to such gratification in our homes. In place of selective eating we can begin to “devolve” as a culture to appreciate the gifts we are given by the earth, creating a new kind of revolution that uplifts long forgotten local products giving local ecology a new hope while celebrating the history of our earths evolution.
The power to make this change is not in the hands of legislators, politicians, or presidents it is in the hands of the consumers and more importantly those who inform or prepare food for the consumers. Its entirely necessary for an evolved society to own its impact by taking responsibility for each and every action it executes. Those who create the bridge between field and plate become the most important figures in this resurrection of our natural world, and their can be no excuse, they must be held accountable.
Our hope lies in the hands of civilization waking up, realizing that the only way to gain knowledge is to ask questions, and that the only people who can truly answer those questions are the people who live in symbiosis with the task they are executing. In this vein its imperative that we put the duty of careful guidance to homeostasis in the hands of the farmers, those who have a connection to the land not those who have a connection to subsidies, and allow them to produce freely what they know to be right for our region and the season.
This means on wide scale accepting that we might have to live without luxury and instant gratification, but I find that a whole lot easier to live without than livable climate or fresh air to breath. Our minds will once again evolve exploring the native species of plant and animal nature designed for our specific place on this rock, sparking a new way to view the world and bringing us once again to symbiosis with our surroundings and the abundance natural evolution has provided.