This is the second in a series of posts on politics and food. Please forgive us if it gets a little heavy in here for the next few weeks. Your regularly scheduled programming will resume shortly.
Beliefs are based on many different factors. Some we inherit from our parents, some from our teachers and peers, and others from media. But the most lasting and powerful beliefs come from personal experiences. Sometimes the circumstances are right and these things align to make us passionate about something. This is how I became interested in food and farming. I hope that the story of my influences will help you consider why you believe the things that you believe.
It began, as many great things seem to, on the couch. Several years ago I was looking for a way to kill a few hours in front of the television, and popped in a DVD that had been collecting dust for several weeks on my bookshelf. It was a Netflix mail order disc that I’d received by accident and felt compelled to watch before sending it back for something more action-packed. It was a little documentary called Food, Inc., and it made an impression on me.
Still, I didn’t act immediately. Sure, I started “voting with my wallet” and buying more local and organic products. But I didn’t drop everything and become an activist waiving signs and stomping around Washington. My life continued pretty much as it had for the last five years.
A few months later I picked up a copy of Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dillemma. At this point I was a vessel primed for Pollan’s preaching, so he converted me to the ways of the green revolution fully. This was no longer just something I thought about; it was part of who I was.
My diet in college consisted of prepackaged foods filled with preservatives and chemicals. Now I was eating better and my body was thanking me for it. I felt better waking up in the morning and going to bed at night. Maybe cutting out drinking thirty beers every other night helped too, but we’ll never know. Anyway, I felt like a million bucks and that was good enough for me. If other people were still eating fast food and guzzling soda that was their problem.
And then Christina came home one day from work (she was teaching fourth grade in the South Bronx) and told me about the breakfast program at her school. The previous year, the school began supplying students with a small breakfast: cereal, milk, sometimes fresh fruit and yogurts. Some of the kids went from eating nothing at all before school, or worse, guzzling an energy drink loaded with caffeine and sugar, to being provided a real, reasonable meal. According to her, productivity skyrocketed. The morning became their most useful time. Behavioral issues disappeared. Students were more focused and had fewer “stomach aches” that were really just hunger pangs. A simple breakfast transformed her classroom and thus the lives and futures of the students in it. Oh, and her principal was considering cutting the breakfast program because it was too expensive.
This sent me into a blind rage. “How could anyone be so short-sighted? What is your principal thinking?! Find the money!” I know the realities of budget management require tough decisions, but Christina’s descriptions of the students before and after the breakfast program were undeniable. Kids need food to learn. Have you ever tried to dig a hole without a shovel? Having the right tools are essential parts of a job, and food is the most basic of our tools.
Now I was ready to act. I couldn’t do much to save the program at her school (which actually received an eleventh-hour stay of execution), but I could take some action in my own eventual backyard. So I’m in New Zealand, learning a trade and traveling the world, with my loyalties to home stronger than ever. I’ll return to the US armed with the skills and knowledge to bring more good food to markets where it’s needed most. Stay tuned for more about that last point, serving the underserved, next time.