10 in Their 20s – Politics of Food

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(Host) For ten Mondays, VPR is featuring a new series of commentaries from “10 in Their 20s,” in which members of Vermont’s 20-something generation share their perspectives on issues that matter the most to them – from the local to the global. This week, Suzanne Podhaizer reflects on the politics of food.

(Podhaizer) I can find a way to bring food into almost any conversation. In talking about health and nutrition, I often mention the importance of choosing organic food products. If a friend casually complains about mud season, I expound on the joy of eating asparagus in spring when the first slender spears emerge from the damp ground. In the event that an acquaintance wants cooking advice, I love to give tips on how to make perfect risotto.

However, reports of drastic environmental problems are beginning to seep into mainstream media, and I have to admit that I’m getting scared. Okay, that’s an understatement I am scared – and this makes me wonder if I’ve been worrying about the wrong things.

A recent report prepared for the Pentagon by the Global Business Network projected a scenario that could occur given the recent trends in global warming. To quote from the report, “the plausibility of severe and rapid climate change is higher than most of the scientific community…is prepared for.” The climate change referred to in the report could have such drastic effects as the ocean breaking through levees in the Netherlands and the climate of much of Europe becoming like that of Siberia. Ultimately, the report suggests, the U.S. might have to build defensive fortresses to protect its resources, and borders would need to be strengthened to keep out unwanted starving immigrants. Water shortages could be a significant problem as well. And all of this is said to be possible within 20 years.

Perhaps though, there is a link between my original concerns and the state of the environment. Consumers have long funneled most of their food dollars into cheap agriculture rather than sustainable agriculture. As a culture we spend our money on entertainment, exciting vacations, and large cars. Somehow it is easier to imagine dropping $70 on eBay in a night than it is to imagine buying organic scallions at 99 cents per bunch. Could a shift in our priorities move us further away from global disaster?

Eating seasonally as well as organically could help. Have you thought about the huge amounts of jet fuel that it takes to move exotic and out-of-season foods around the globe? How about the pollution that is given off by the factories that put foods grown in the United States into cans and jars, which will later end up in landfills?

I don’t suggest that we should give up bananas and pineapples altogether, just that we should build our diets around whole foods, grown close to home, that are minimally processed – if at all. Eat tomatoes in August, Delicata squash in the winter, and asparagus in spring.

Caring about the food you eat, preparing it well, and enjoying it thoroughly can lead to healthier, more sustainable food choices. It wasn’t until I became passionate about cooking that I began to purchase the beautiful organic produce at the Farmer’s Market and stopped eating bland tomatoes in winter.

If consumers make good choices and purchase with the environment in mind, that maybe is that in 20 years I won’t have to worry about mass starvation and environmental collapse. Instead, I could be teaching youngsters how to make perfect organic asparagus risotto.

I’m Suzanne Podhaizer of Burlington.

Podhaizer is 26. She is a food writer, novice gardener and enthusiastic cook.

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