When I was growing up in Colorado, the last thing on our minds was the story of our food. It came from the grocery store, of course. Or a fast food chain. (Who can forget Der Wienerschnitzel?) I was enamored with anything that the astronauts might eat or drink, which meant highly processed food.
One of the few memories I have of eating fresh, local, seasonal food was at a nearby cherry orchard. Wow, the burst of flavor still lingers in my mouth. Like many people, I went from meal to meal without ever asking the most basic questions: Where did this food come from? How was it grown? How did it reach me?
In a nutshell, I was food illiterate. Not until I moved away from home did I begin to question my relationship to food and the larger food chain. Gradually, I began to reflect on the ecological and social implications of my food choices. I discovered the joy of shopping at a farmers market. And I cherished the act of cooking and eating with friends and family.
As my food journey unfolded, I found myself becoming more food literate. I saw food and agriculture as powerful levers for constructive social change. How many spheres of human activity—if you design with intention—can create more vibrant communities, help solve global warming, and restore fiscal sanity (remember health care costs)?
This personal engagement with the story of my food led me to produce the PBS special, Nourish: Food + Community and develop a companion educational initiative. I keep asking myself: What is food literacy and why does it matter?
At Nourish, we’ve crafted a short, simple definition for food literacy: “Understanding the story of our food from farm to table, and back to the soil.” This definition invites us to consider the big picture. As my mentor Buckminster Fuller counseled, “Start with the whole and work toward the more specific.” Good advice when tackling complex problems.
My hunch is that a more food literate society will pay enormous short- and long-term dividends. What are your suggestions for increasing food literacy at home, in schools, and in your community?
My wish for the future: How can we increase food literacy and build healthier communities?