In a food-to-school meeting I attended this week, we were told by a produce aggregator that “a pepper is a pepper is a pepper”. All producers of these “identical” peppers would be paid the same amount for them. To me, this statement betrayed the absenteeism and anonymity of our food system. Each pepper (besides being a pepper) is a cultural artifact representing a story of production. To strip it of its story deprives the consumer of a deeper appreciation or spiritual satisfaction from the eating of the pepper. It also leads to the undervaluing of the food itself. An individual picking and biting into a pepper in late August that she grew from a seed in April and fostered to maturity over many months is a priceless expression of the connection between people and food. While it would be wonderful for everyone to be growing food in some capacity, it is unlikely for a lot of people, especially in cities. We find, therefore, that it is part of our job as farmers to foster this feeling of connection to food for our customers. Look at the pepper. Love the pepper.
Food is a cultural phenomenon. It tells a story. It is worth asking yourself: What story are you part of? What is your connection to food? Did you choose it? What subconscious assumptions drive you toward your purchases: Price? Quality? Human connection? Farming practice? A combination?
Speaking also as a consumer (and in a non-preachy tone, I promise), some thoughts about pricing: Though it may seem like a bargain, there are some very high costs to cheap food. When you enter into a Cosco/BJs/Wal-Mart-type mindset that values price above all else, you inadvertently enter into a bigger story that is often rooted in human and environmental exploitation. Worse, price is an addictive mindset that can rob you of the will power to enter into a food system whose primary values include quality of food, human connection and environmental stewardship. These are the pillars of the story we hope to tell and the points of access that we hope we can engage you in.
Human culture develops around food. It could be Burger King in the car, or a communal harvest festival, to put it starkly. In that it structures our daily lives, the production and consumption of food is life in a fundamental way. Unfortunately, this foundation has been undermined. The story we’re told (force-fed) is that food production is drudgery, food preparation is tedious, and that food is fuel and the quicker you can fuel up the faster you can get on with what is really important. The converse is food that is grown with care in a system which values all life- in its parts and as a whole.
We (the farmers) want the food we produce to inspire cooking that nourishes friends and families. This food should generate health and vitality, from which point we (the eaters) can better fulfill our human potential. Because food prep and production takes time to be done well, it slows life down to a pace that allows us to live more presently in our bodies, our minds, our families, and our communities. It is risky to speak in oversimplified ideals, but I believe that our food culture has spiraled so far out of control that we need to set a high bar for recovery. That is the story I want to be part of.