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Our Food Chain, Unhinged

Wendy B. Rosen


It is March 25th, 2020 and we are in the midst of a surreal, unfathomable time. This morning I pulled into the “Shop from Home” parking spot at my local supermarket, called the phone number to notify the clerk that I was here to pick up my order, and peered sympathetically through the windows at the dedicated staff I know so well in my “second home”. Then I cried. It seemed so unfair that we were on different sides of the glass. Make no mistake - these people are heroes. HEROES! Take them for granted no longer. Without exaggeration, they are the gatekeepers to our very survival.

We are no different than any other species on this planet. We live to eat and we eat to live. Think about it. Everything we do in our lives comes down to this primal truth – we do what we do so we can buy food and continue to live. Some are very intimately connected to this notion – farmers, chefs, nutritionists, restaurant owners. The rest of us connect when our pantries grow bare and our bellies growl. This is not to say that anyone whose livelihood revolves around any other purpose merits less acknowledgement. But at the end of the day (and in the middle and at the beginning) we all need to eat. And our ticket to eating hinges on our ability to acquire the means to acquire food.

Fairly recently, on a trip to the grocery store to stock up when all this began brewing, I was sensing impending dread. I remember walking through the aisles on my way to the checkout counter while consciously contemplating the everyday mundaneness of this act, that I feared would soon be changing, while also marveling at the miracle of it. Here is my take on what the food chain means to this human:

Before I am permitted to exit the store with my food, I must pay with the money I earned through my job that I landed by working hard in school so I could gain the requisite skills needed to function as a citizen in this world, which I was able to do because someone supported me and met my basic needs while I was growing up and learning how to be a person.

No small feat, topped off with infinite gratitude. On the drive home, with a disheartening one third of my order unfilled due to lack of stock at the store, I suddenly realized that despite this advanced society I inhabit, I now have it harder than my grandparents. And while navigating this nostalgia and the sparsely populated highway, I suddenly had the desire to make my own butter. But this thought fell aside momentarily as I grappled with the unbelievable sight of suburbia actually resembling a ghost town.

We are being pummeled by some harsh truths here.

We think our lifestyle of convenience is easier, until one renegade germ wreaks havoc with our routines and we are knocked off our feet and out of our lane.

We think “old-fashioned” ways of doing things are outdated and inferior, when they actually equip us with the skills to be self-reliant.

We undervalue and underpay those whose jobs enable our lifestyle of convenience, when they are being looked to now, to save us in the face of overwhelming uncertainty and lack.

Lactose intolerance aside, how I wish I had my own cow right about now. My husband is considering raising chickens so we can have fresh eggs. (This is monumentally huge.) And I truly want to learn how to make cheese. Today. Tomorrow I will bake yeast-free bread, because the store was out of yeast and I want to ration the one-and-a-half packets I have left. Here’s my big takeaway: it is going to come down to getting back to basics. This isn’t as basic as it sounds, and yet at the same time, it is.

Let’s put two and two together:

1. Our food system is unsustainable and inequitable. To say it needs an overhaul is an understatement of epic proportions.

2. Earth is desperately trying to get our attention by having a good cry from time to time in the form of massive storms.

This all adds up to the undeniable fact that we just can’t keep abusing the very planet that provides us with everything we need in order to live. Humans are supposed to be the smartest species, but what other creatures do you know of that intentionally destroy the very habitat they live in and depend on for life?? We must change our mindsets from thinking that, by looking to how we sustained ourselves a few generations ago, we are not devolving in doing so, but coming full circle in a good way.

Yes, we know how to invent and innovate. But put simply, let’s not continue to do so to our peril. Can we say we are better off now with all our gizmos and gadgets than we were a generation ago, or two? Or with moving food from one far-off place to another with gigantic gasps of gas-guzzling effort? Lessons of how we did things in our past are not obsolete or useless. Tether these to what we know now, born of hard-won insight into what we really need in order to live healthy, safe, and fulfilling lives, and we may come to our senses in time to turn the tide.

Tomorrow, after I learn how to make cheese, I am going to plant vegetable seeds in containers on my deck. Then I’m going to set up a microgreen garden in a glass dish next to the window in my study. Did you know that growing microgreens uses significantly less water and offers up exponentially more nutrients than the fully mature plant? That’s a win-win. And we really need a win right now.

There is much we can do. You don’t need to have a plot of land to grow food, or a balcony, or a porch. Have a friend who does? Ask to share. No friend? Make one, by sharing this idea, and some seeds from that tomato on your plate. Start with a sunny spot in your dwelling. It all begins exactly where each of us are right now.

When we come through this, none of us will look at our food sources quite the same again. And we shouldn’t. While we try to figure out how to fix the big systemic picture, let’s all do our part to grow what we can and share this big idea - along with seeds, tools, growing tips and hope - with each other. Especially hope. Hope helps everything grow.

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