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Stories from the Farm: How will we eat?

July 12, 2010

We asked our Lazarus summer interns the provocative question “How will we eat?” and got a surprising range of answers. From becoming aware of the true diversity of vegetables available at farmers’ markets, to thoughts on how to implement small organic farms nationwide, read on and join the conversation. (Feel free to leave comments!)

Sam Huber, Morse ’13

Last night, I made a salad out of Lacinato kale, Chioggia beets, Hakurei turnips, kohlrabi, and zucchini.  Two months ago, I could have identified exactly one of these vegetables (zucchini), and the only salads I’d ever made involved tearing some iceberg lettuce, maybe (just maybe) cutting up a tomato, and pouring on a bottled dressing.  The questions of what we eat and how we eat it have been nagging at me for a while now, but until this internship my answers were mostly dependent on the microwave and a few select aisles of the supermarket.  Kohlrabi rarely shows up in Whole Foods, much less the local Stop & Shop, which makes me doubt whether I would have ever discovered it on my own.  The supermarket seems to function as a closed loop:  its patrons might easily be convinced to visit a farmers’ market if someone showed them a Kohlrabi, let them taste and hold it and made them curious enough to seek one out, but the only produce you know when you shop at a supermarket is supermarket produce.  It took me six weeks of actual farm work, of learning enough about a vegetable to nurse it to harvest and sell it at market, to get me to last night’s salad. But now that I’m here, that supermarket produce is going to be a much harder sell.

Ian Sprague, Jonathan Edwards ’12

How will we eat? This question often loses out to its competitor, “what will we eat?”. After all, ‘what’ seems like the most loaded term — it implies a whole range of possible foods that one could ingest, and suggests the danger that the modern consumer faces when trying to sate his or her appetite. Ask this question of a food-lover and they will thank you profusely before starting out on their personal rant about “good food”. But now that I think about it, “what” delimits the issue to a simple matter of substitution; for example, will we eat processed meats that are injected with antibiotics, or will we buy from the local cattle rancher who lets his steer out to pasture? A question of preference and economics. However, there is more at stake here than a simple change in consumer preference. “How” encapsulates everything that goes into eating and living well. “How” allows us to consider the pleasure of cooking one’s own food, and the passive stagnation of waiting in line to receive food being cooked without care, for a cheap price. “How” allows to think about the speed with which we expect to be fed, and after-affects of food after we swallow it down into our stomachs. Let’s face it here, eating is one of the number one activities we humans engage in, and considering how we go about the act maybe a fruitful contemplation. Just as how there is a right way to harvest wash lettuce on the way to market, there is a right way to feed oneself and one’s loved ones every day. How, then, shall we eat?

Patrick Vergara, Silliman 2011
If the executives at Monsanto have their way there will come a day, not terribly far in the future, when their ultimate vision is fulfilled. Their business plan complete, and the world saved from all unsavory plant species, they will sit back and cross their pinstriped arms. They’ll look at each other and know that because of their hard work their sons and daughters will only ever have to eat one type of soybean. That because of them their apples will only be fire-engine red and perfectly shaped. Their corn will be fat and tall and as yellow as the butter no doubt destined for its surface. Their melons a perfect sphere grown on vines progammed to arrange themselves in parallel lines. Their potatoes precisely porous enough to absorb as much french-fry oil as possible. Their tomatoes as round as a hamburger would want. That’s what they will get to eat.

Yasha Magarik, Calhoun ’12


“How will we eat?” implies another important question: “How will we grow?” My answer, after reading Bill Duesing’s 1995 book review of Ishmael and two competing reports on the future of agriculture, involves not just abolition of the fashionably vilified corn subsidies or GMO patent laws, but also comprehensive land reform. Duesing quotes Cary Fowler and Pat Mooney, the co-authors of one of the two reports: “The green revolution answered the problem of hunger and rural unrest with increased production, not with land reform or employment projects; essentially it offered a technological solution to a social and political problem.” What is needed is the redistribution of 10,000- and 100,000-acre farms to many small, organic growers, each managing no more than 20 or 40 acres apiece. Whether through eminent domain or the more gradual route of subsidies for small organic farmers (especially those who replace synthetic fertilizers and pesticides/herbicides with more intense labor—thus employing many more people), we need to solve the sociopolitical problem that Malcolm X saw as “the root of every revolution.” Only then will small farmers have the power necessary to properly implement crop diversity, rotation, and care.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Daniel permalink
    July 12, 2010 3:47 pm

    Thanks to Bill Duesing, president of CT-NOFA, for the great blog topic…

    Thinking about Yasha’s post…
    A great documentary on the land redistribution process in post-apartheid South Africa just aired on the PBS Point of View series… you can watch Promised Land here:
    http://www.pbs.org/pov/promisedland/

    Also, interesting to listen to Vandana Shiva’s recent interview/debate on Democracy Now! discussing geo-engineering vs. small-scale organic farming as a quick fix to the climate crisis
    http://www.democracynow.org/2010/7/8/a_debate_on_geoengineering_vandana_shiva

  2. Daniel permalink
    July 20, 2010 5:39 am

    This is a great post and even greater question. Any interest in co-organizing an undergraduate conference based on this question?

  3. August 2, 2010 9:10 am

    In Switzerland, we have never stopped eating the greens Sam talks about. When you go to the farmers market, the choice of greens is so vast, it is difficult to choose which ones you want to eat this week. Perhaps the U.S. has something to re-learn from Swiss farmers.

  4. December 13, 2010 6:42 pm

    Interesting and thought provoking. I ask the question a lot “what to eat” “what do you want to eat” but asking “How will we eat” changes the answer significantly. Thanks

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