guest blog: the (ongoing) food revolution
This week we have a guest blog from Meredith Hughes, co-founder of the Potato Museum and its offshoot The Food Museum discussing the current food revolution that is taking place.
To those of us living in the American suburbs or small towns of the 1950's and 1960's, when a pizza joint opened up, or a Chinese restaurant came in, that was revolutionary. And while our mothers made tasty meals for us at home, the first time we encountered a hamburger cooked at a roadside place, with fresh-made fries on the side, that, if not revolutionary, was eye-opening. Of course the proliferation of what came to be known as "fast food" was yet another revolution. The invention of the frozen French fry, the establishment of huge cattle feedlots and the portability of the corn syrup that formed the base for sodas, made possible the global growth of chains such as McDonald's. That revolution, and the health challenges that have emerged along with it, continues to unfold across the world today.
In the 1970's, those of us who had traveled in Europe brought back to the States a desire for many of the delights we had encountered there - like good coffee brewed up fresh in cafes, bread baked daily from whole ingredients, beer brewed in small batches, and artisanal cheeses made from friendly goats. Some of us started Starbucks, Whole Foods Market, and Sam Adams Brewery. At the time that was revolutionary.
Some who returned from European sojourns established restaurants that revolutionized how food was grown, cooked and served. Chefs sought out local meats and vegetables, grew their own herbs, and cooked what was seasonal.
In the 70's and 80's these people, seen as outsiders and disparaged as hippie "back-to-the-earthers" tried self-sufficiency, establishing food co-ops and raising their own hens and fresh produce. Meanwhile, packaged "convenience" foods, agribusiness-produced crops and the powerful supermarket chains that sold them, gained ground.
Groups of people slowly became aware of the environmental costs of trucking food long distances, of using water that depleted underground aquifers, of raising crops with an overabundance of fertilizers and pesticides, of a changing climate that would soon affect everyone.
By the 1990's, many had decided that saving farmland from being developed into housing, creating ways of growing food that was sustainable into the future and making possible local outlets for farmers, would mean better quality food for us all. Farmers Markets, once housed primarily in 19th century buildings in large cities, began to appear all across the country.
In the last two decades greater numbers of us have returned to gardening, to try to grow our own tomatoes, squash and herbs, in pots, in window boxes, in small plots created from our lawns. We decided to raise edibles to feed ourselves and our families rather than grass. Some of us even became "guerrilla gardeners" tossing zucchini (courgette) seed "bombs" into the soil in front of the library in the dark of night, or planting lettuces in the cracks in the pavement next to the fire station.
In large cities we have increasingly taken over empty lots and created Community Gardens - we share our labor, and our harvests.
Local, fresh, sustainable!
We have pushed back against the seed/fertilizer giants like Monsanto that tried to patent seeds grown locally around the world, that invested millions in GMO plants and methods that have never been tested over the long term.
We finally recognized that food is fuel for people, (as well as animals,) and that we are indeed "what we eat".
We have advocated for proper labeling, not only of ingredients, but also of so-called "natural" products, establishing guidelines for what is organic and what is not.
And we eat better - we eat dishes from Vietnamese, Ethiopian, and Persian restaurants, we cook from scratch more, we not only grow vegetables and compost food waste, but we gather wild plants, we hunt wild game, and rarely go to the "supermarket" for food.
Today we are exploring what our children are eating at school. We lobby against soft drink vending machines and bring in cooks to make healthy innovations in our school lunch programs. More schools now have their own gardens and children recognize that carrots grow below, and beans grow above, the aromatic soil.
We organize to bring small healthy food shops into so-called urban "food deserts" and we ponder how to convey what we have learned about healthy food, and food systems, to those for whom this information has not been a priority.
And yes, in the process, some of us have become (possibly overly) enamored of cooking shows on tv, and celebrity chefs, and recipe blogs, and diet crazes, and supplement fads, and "precious" restaurants where three peas, a dab of squash, and a sliver of chicken comprise a dish.
Nonetheless, Viva La Revolution!
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about the author
Meredith Sayles Hughes, foodmuseum.com
Meredith is co-founder of The Potato Museum and its offshoot, The FOOD Museum online at foodmuseum.com She is the author of several books about food and has worked on major exhibitions about food: Seeds of Change, for the Smithsonian and The Amazing Potato for the National Museum of Science and Technology in Ottawa, Ontario. The latest exhibition, Spuds Unearthed! was with the U.S. Botanic Garden in Washington, DC in 2010.