This is rest of the conversation I had with Sarah Moses-Winyard on July 4, 2010. Click here to read the first half.
Forest: I feel like so much of the challenge we face with reforming the food system has to do with getting people to, if not appreciate, at least think about their food. Would you say that’s something that begins in the community?
Sarah: I guess that would depend on your definition of “community.” I’d say that a community is a group of individuals that are in some way associated or bonded together, right? A community might include friends, family members, neighbors, co-workers, strangers passed on the street… Or, if you are talking about a national or global community, millions of people might be involved. In response to your question, I’d say that thoughts about food, about anything, often are produced in an individual who has been prompted or inspired by a community of some sort, sometimes by multiple communities, at different times or simultaneously and to varying degrees. (There is often overlap between groups’ members.) The home environment probably plays a large role as individuals grow, but awareness of food could start anywhere, at any time, and most likely in many places, at multiple times, through lifetimes. The medium used also differs–television, radio, print, the Internet, word of mouth… I personally think that firsthand experience is crucial, because thought and appreciation of food–of anything–has to come from within. Genuine feelings can’t be forced. I know that I am mostly inspired by those whom I interact with, face-to-face, on a regular basis. Well, these people, and the Internet–that might be a generational thing. The Internet (and other forms of media) makes it easy to be inspired by a community that you aren’t even a part of.
I’m curious where this last question of yours came from. What exactly led you to say that, that “so much of the challenge we face with reforming the food system has to do with getting people to, if not appreciate, at least think about their food”? How has the reading, gardening, and cooking you’ve been doing shaped your opinions on the food system?
F: I have no simple answer to either of your questions. An answer that is appropriately complex lies between the lines of this blog. I’m sorry if that sounds like I’m evading or trying to be cryptic. I can start to reply by saying that advertising — no small force in the crafting of consumption (as in eating and otherwise) patterns both in and outside of the US — should make us pause in considering the true meaning of “freedom.”
F: My next question is, what’s your hope for the Bennington student garden?
S: Well, I haven’t been as involved in the Bennington student garden yet as I’d like to be, so I’m not really sure where the BSFP is headed. I’m also not sure yet how realistic my hopes for the garden are, because I’m fairly new to gardening. But I suppose I would really like the Bennington student garden to be a place where interested individuals can come together in an encouraging environment to further their understanding of how healthy, sustainable gardens are grown and to gain hands-on experience in growing [food] and working together in a community garden setting. It’s assumed that we’ll all graduate in a few years, and many of us will leave the Bennington area in search of a new home. Ideally, we’ll carry our new garden knowledge and our passion for sustainable gardening with us and spread it around in our new communities. I think it’s safe to say that we’d all like to learn as much as we can about being competent gardeners while perhaps incorporating more [organic?] local produce to the dining hall menu. I don’t know, who is going to eat the food produced in the garden? Anyone who is interested? Or is the BSFP directly related to the Dining Hall? Will the produce be passed on to the DH? There probably won’t be enough to feed the entire school, but it might offset some of the food they get elsewhere, from somewhere much farther away.
F: At this point, we don’t know exactly where the food will go. At this point, we can’t tell how much we’ll have. It’s possible a flourish of squash or cucumber might find its way into the dining hall, but right now it’s really just about having something growing. The dining hall and the BSFP are definitely ready to work together, but it will take a lot more talking and thinking.
S: Well, that seems like a sound direction to me. Continuing with my hopes for the garden, I have to admit that gardening does seem to be very trendy these days among young adults. Certainly, that’s good, but I sometimes wonder about people’s motives, whether they join the movement because they believe in it, or because they are jumping on the bandwagon, or because they need some excitement in their lives, etc. I think I am in it for all of those reasons. And I have mixed emotions about that. But I guess everyone involved with the BSFP will benefit and give in his or her own way. I hope, and think, that contact with the garden will impact each of us positively. I also wonder what the extent of the student garden’s impact will be. I understand that “student garden” implies a garden for students, and I love that idea, but I am personally really interested right now in working with the greater Bennington community, with people who may not have a space of their own in which to grow food, or may not even have exposure to gardening or organic produce. Like, is there a community garden in North Bennington or the town of Bennington? Do we have enough room on campus to let people in town come and garden with us? I think that would potentially be really cool for building new relationships with the surrounding towns.
F: There’s a community garden in North Bennington, next to Highland Hall’s Victorian Garden. Certainly, there is enough room for more people to garden on campus; though for getting help on the student garden, seeking out student volunteers would probably be more advisable. These will be important questions for everyone in the BSFP to consider.
F: Let’s go back to your upbringing. Could you talk about one memorable tradition or moment from the food culture that you grew up in?
S: I’m an American, but I have Jewish and Chinese ancestors, so I was raised with a blend of American, Jewish, and Chinese cultures, and food seems important to all of these groups. (I don’t know of any ethnicity that doesn’t value food.) Latkes at Hannukah are something I look forward to, and there are a couple Chinese restaurants that my parents have gone to for years, so some of the waitresses know us and greet us when we go in. Personally, though, these are not as important to me as the family dinners my parents and I attend at our close friends’ home. We’ve been doing these dinners for several years now, and cooking and eating with them are what I missed most about my hometown during my first year of college. I think the family dinners mean more to me than the specific cultural traditions because I don’t feel comfortable choosing one label, saying “I am Jewish,” or “Chinese,” or “American.” Eating with one’s family, and also gardening, are things that are universal, very grounded (literally, with the gardening), and I think this also comforts me.
F: So here’s something I’ve been asking a lot recently, and I know you’ve already answered it in some ways, but what do you think of when you think of “good food”?
S: Lately, I think, “beets, kale, radishes, chard, broccoli leaves, and garlic. Also, goat cheese.” To me, “good food” is food that tastes good. For reasons unbeknown to me, I grew up liking “healthy” food, food that came fresh from gardens and included lots of vegetables and fruits. Often these foods are very colorful and flavorful, though simple, and often, community is strongly connected to consumption. So not only is the taste of good food pleasurable, but it looks good and feels hearty. The ingredients feel firm but ripe in their original form, and they smell like you’d expect them to smell. There is also an emotional satisfaction that comes from being a part of the food system. If you know where your food came from, you feel more connected to it. If you or someone you care about helped grow it, gather it, prepare it, cook it, you see and sense all of that when you eat. You know the work and love involved. It’s very empowering, and also awe-some, thinking that the food you are about to eat started out so small, yet flourished through hard work and the grace of nature. I believe that the experiences people have through farming, sharing their harvests, and cooking are very good for building strong, positive communities. That’s why I prefer small markets and grocery stores (and, even more-so, individual exchanges between friends who farm and garden) to large ones. Obviously, community is important to me, and good food is a definite part of that.
F: I’m so glad we could talk today; thank you so much Sarah. And enjoy the rest of your Independence Day.
S: Thanks! You too.