By Marnie Record, workforce specialist, Lincoln Land Community College
We eat food to sustain life. Behind this seemingly simple act lies a complex web of personal and political values, and a trail of social implications.
I’ve been working to grow a community based food system for the past 12 years and eating delicious food my whole life. Growing up, I learned to appreciate fresh produce from the vine while plucking pea pods from plants in my grandparent’s garden. I ate healthy, cooked-from-scratch meals nightly thanks to a mother who enjoyed experimenting in the kitchen, and parents who wouldn’t let my sister and I leave the dinner table until we had sufficiently contributed the meal conversation.
These teachings to value food and time spent eating together help us see ourselves as part of the world with a connection to our families, the community and the earth. We learn to care for the land and its inhabitants. We experience resiliency, the cycle of life, and hope; all necessary components for making our way in the world.
Even being immersed in the food industry for many years, I am continually learning how our food system functions, seeing it from new perspectives, and watching it change. I’m reminded daily that not all of us grew up in a home that valued food. For those of us that did, matching our values with our choices isn’t easy. We want things. We want a lot of things such as cars, toys, houses, stuff to fill our houses, the latest and greatest technologies, vacations and an endless list of items to enrich our lives. Furthermore, research often reflects a perspective that the funding agencies want to present, and marketing represents the business of selling products. It can be challenging to uncover the truth even for the most inquisitive mind.
Embark on the journey to unearth the realities about our food system and we find a mountain to climb. Take bacon for example. For this single product we can ask such questions as: Who raised the pig and what type of person are they? Was the pig raised on pasture where they can forage from the land or was the pig raised on cement in quarters too close for comfort? Can the soil naturally manage the amount of waste from the pigs or is there too much for the space that leaches into drinking water sources? Does the farm who raised the pig employ people who receive a living wage, appropriate working conditions, and respect for the work they conduct? Were the pigs given antibiotics or was the bacon processed with nitrates? Did the pork travel thousands of miles to the table emitting air pollution along the way or did it travel from a farm down the road? These questions express just the tip of the iceberg.
Yet, we are busier than ever with multiple jobs to make ends meet, taking kids to an extensive list of extracurricular activities, and shopping for the many needs we dream. Even if we value our food, we have little time and resources to figure out how to buy food that contributes to living wages, care for the land, welfare for the animals, and a more connected community. It’s easier to grab food from a drive-through window on the way home, or select hamburger from the display case without consideration for how the cow was raised or what it consumed while it was alive.
But the expense of not seeking answers to the multitude of possible questions about how our food system functions opens the door for poverty, nutrition deficiency, food insecurity, diminishing productivity from the land, economic depression and diet-related diseases to enter our community. It may not be you or anyone you know that faces these problems first-hand, but they are prevalent around us. Seems to me too steep of a price to pay.
One opportunity to discover more about the food system in our community will be found at the new Springfield Winter Farmers Markets held the fourth Saturday during January through April at the Third Presbyterian Church in Springfield. Ten to 15 vendors selling meats, cheese, produce, prepared foods such as soups and egg burritos, jellies, baked goods, nuts, eggs and dog treats will sell the products they worked hard to create. Ask them about their lives and how they raised or sourced their food. The stories they tell will make you laugh, cry and feel joyful to be a part of our community.
Lincoln Land Community College offers credit programs in Value-Added Local Food, Culinary Arts, Hospitality Management, and Baking/Pastry, and non-credit cooking and food classes through our Community Learning Culinary Institute. For more information, visit our website at www.llcc.edu.