After all, it was a garden party
I recently attended a Saturday luncheon party in Manhattan’s Upper West Side — it was a very unlikely and, needless to say, very diverse group of people hosted by my friend Jeff Stier (he writes at jeffstier.org). Excellent food and fantastic conversation! Earlier in the day I visited various butcher shops and other specialty food shops in and around Manhattan, taking in a cornucopia of foods even more diverse than the people attending this party. It was a summer day spent thinking about food systems and what outreach materials would be of benefit to processors, vendors, or consumers of these products.
Mind boggling is an apt description of New York City’s food distribution system, the most densely populated city in the U.S. So many items, varied in their degree of relative “freshness,” shipped in from all over the World. I was thinking about all of the different farms and food processing plants that brought forth this bounty and how fun and interesting it would be to visit them all.
At this party I realized that it is atypical, perhaps, for an eater to think of farms and food processing.
Reality check #1
If you talk to an agvocate, for example, one might think that everyone else out there has read the popular press books inciting fear and hysteria regarding the contemporary food system. The sky is not falling — commodity prices have been going up since Food, Inc. was released.
Reality check #2
The urban consumer who is not particularly “food aware” is perhaps even more removed from the pre-consumption complexity of the food system than I previously thought. During the garden tour at this party, a jalapeño plant featuring an immature pepper was pointed out. One of the guests asked, innocently and inquisitively, “Can you actually use that pepper?”
Is this where we are?
This elicits a series of somewhat related questions for me regarding the growing interest in “agvocacy” as well as the condition of the non-agricultural consuming public. I have no idea if many other people would ask that question about the pepper — my guess is, probably. And here those of us directly involved in the agricultural industries are focusing on justifying what we do by telling people how we do it. A common illustration of the food-farm disconnect is the explanation that some kids do not realize that milk comes from cows, not paper or plastic containers (nevermind the steps it goes through from farm to glass or cereal bowl). To me, this is even more disconnected, and by no fault whatsoever of that guest, to simply realize that people can drink the milk from any cow. That cow’s milk is cow’s milk — and it can all work to stop chili burn.