Student: “What kind of eggs do your chickens lay?”
Student: “No. I mean are they the kind of eggs that you eat, or the kind that turn into chicks?”
Me: “Well, we don’t have a rooster, so they won’t turn into chicks.”
Student: “Oh. Roosters lay the eggs that turn into chicks. I didn’t know that.”
Me: “Uh, no.”
Yes, that is an actual conversation that took place in my classroom not too long ago. And while I was laughing (and so was the student after an explanation), it made me very sad that so many people are so disconnected from their food. So I ventured a question to them, “Where does your food come from?” The answers? They varied, but they were all fast food places.
If someone asked my children that question they would tell you, “a farm.” I’m glad that they know this; that we have the privilege of being able to go to the farms and buy our food direct from the farmers. What strikes me is that my family is a minority, and it is a paradox – as food delivery and technology advances, we go out of our way to bypass the advances in order to get better food because the “advances” are actually a degradation.
Industrial food has created a system that creates distance between the food source and the consumer. The more steps between, the more people can profit from the same item. Economics really does drive our culture. America took the success of Henry Ford’s car production and applied it wherever she could – to the food industry, to the medical/pharmaceutical industry, and now to education. One size fits all and the faster and cheaper we get it to market, the better it is for everyone.
Everyone is going to college, or deserves the chance, or must because there are no more manual labor jobs available. OK, I’m going to state the obvious: Not everyone is smart enough to go to college. Stupid people do exist. And you know what else? Some people don’t want to go to college. And manual labor jobs do exist, we’ve just become too elitist to think that anyone would want to do them. Or we’ve out-sourced it because that is less expensive. Or we created a system that doesn’t allow for us to see them. And what irks me is that the colleges, especially the for-profits and community colleges, really do want all of these students to attend. Why? It doesn’t matter if the student passes or fails, as long as the college gets paid.
But then there is my friend Terry. She decided not to go to college and become a nurse. Rather she became an apprentice on a farm. And two years later, she is happily working on a farm. Outside in the fresh air. And she told me that she could not imagine smelling hospital every day. She is content. And while the manager at my CSA did go to college, he was an English major, not a botanist, or a biologist, or an Ag major.
In a sense, this applies to the food system. For the corporate public, it doesn’t matter if the food is good or just mediocre, or void of any nutritional value, as long as people are making money! That underpaid laborers are processing meat products is of no matter as long as the food remains cheap, which is all that seems to matter to the general public. While we still teach children to sing Old MacDonald Had a Farm, we don’t teach them that the pig, with his oink, oink here and there, is also the bacon on that bacon cheeseburger. When I suggested to my students that a steer they ooh’ed and ahh’d at because it was so cute might end up in a taco, they flipped out. I was being too harsh.
But this is exactly what corporate industrial food desires – a complete disconnect between the meat on the hoof and the meat we eat. Corporate food wants a consumer that doesn’t know that all eggs could be chicks if they were fertile and incubated. This is the paradox: everyone has to go to college in order to be kept stupid and indoctrinated into the idea of corporate busy, so that we perceive ourselves as not having time to prepare foods for ourselves, or go to the farms and buy direct from the farmer. My generation started our children on this pretty young. I remember sitting at a pre-schoolers’ Halloween party, listening to the parents discuss the myriad of activities in which their children participated: gymnastics, dance, karate, swimming, soccer, T-ball, cheerleading, art, music, Mommy and Me Yoga, Daddy and Me Spanish. During the pre-school years, my kids participated in dinner with Mommy and Daddy, every night between 5:30 and 6:30, followed by a game of See How Much Water We Can Get OUT of the Tub Before Our Bath Time is Over. I was really freaked out that kids had four or five activities at the age of 3 or 4. No wonder these mothers were ready to have nervous breakdowns – they worked a 40 hour week and then ran around for another two or three hours a day taking the children to different activities. Why? What is the point? One mom told me so that her son could get into a better college. I thought, ‘I never heard of a college checking into pre-school activities.’ And for the benefit of the child? Who remembers what she did when she was 4 by the time she is 7?
But by 12, she is indoctrinated into the busy mindset. And this is what keeps many Americans dependent on fast/convenience foods. Dinner is not something to eat at a table with utensils, it is something eaten in a car with fingers.
Fertile and incubated ideas can produce change, so educate the next generation to see food from source to table, and make informed decisions. Break the perception of what corporate America deems is necessary, and make decisions based on what you need. And when someone says, “A rooster lays an egg on the roof of the barn. The roof has an equal pitch of 45° on either side. Which side of the roof will the egg roll down if the wind is blowing ESE at 15 MPH?”, you will know that the correct reply is, “Roosters don’t lay eggs.”