by Hannah Babich
I recently read an article in The New York Times discussing a new exhibit entitled “Our Global Kitchen: Food, Nature, Culture” at the American Museum of Natural History (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/24/arts/design/our-global-kitchen-at-american-museum-of-natural-history.html?pagewanted=1&_r=0&ref=food). The article describes a fantastic display of food cultures around the world, from production to consumption. This grand new exhibit explores a myriad of food issues, including hunger and waste, as well as cooking lessons and growth techniques. Besides a budding desire to experience this exciting show of food, the article struck me in another way. As we are forced to examine the history of food and the ways in which we have altered and adapted our system over time, I can’t help but wonder what our food legacy will be.
While the food movement is no doubt gaining strength and momentum, there is still something missing from the equation. As Michael Pollan discussed in his interview at the Paramount earlier in November, the President has made it clear the he’s not willing to make food system reform a priority until he sees significant, undeniable demand. Additionally, in the November election, the much-anticipated California Proposition 37 that would have required the labeling of GMO products failed to pass. For those of us in the thick of the food movement, it’s hard to believe that anyone could deny the strength of the demand for a more wholesome system. But as these situations show, the demand isn’t as poignant as we’d hope.
So what’s missing? To answer this question, I feel the need to draw from Slow Food mentality. Most food reform based groups focus on the now— fighting for policy change, developing better, more natural growth processes, and working to educate the population. While Slow Food encompasses those ideals, this Italian based organization emphasizes the very Italian them of tradition, and tradition, I believe, is the missing link in this food fight. While it’s incredibly important to work on the now, I believe it’s equally important to recognize the past. One of the biggest reasons it’s so difficult to get people interested in the burgeoning food movement is because there is no personal relevance. Food has shifted toward nutrition and convenience alone, rather than an interwoven, integral part of culture and identity.
Therefore, I think it is more imperative than ever to remember the legacy we hail from. What did our grandparents eat? Our great grandparents? How did they prepare food, what were their recipes and traditions? By actively taking part in our past, we can shift the future of our food system. The process of relearning and integrating the tradition of food into our personal lives will help to reconnect food and people on a very personal level. Furthermore, it gives us the chance to take small, personal actions in favor a better food system, and to have a real influence in our lives and the lives of those around us. This is the step that I believe we need to take to mobilize the masses in favor of food reform. When they are personally invested, when they themselves have participated in the cultural act of food from start to finish, then they will fight to preserve it. In 50, 100, or maybe 1,000 years, as people view the food legacy left by our generation, it will be one of reform. It will be a system that encompasses the simple act and tradition of food. Nothing more, and nothing less.
Hannah Babich is a student at UT and the President of Slow Food Movement on campus. If you’re interested in the campus chapter of the Slow Food Movement and want to get involved or just want to learn more, e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org!