Our great journeys of experiencing food culture begin on day one. We have unique experiences about food at different locations, such as home, schools, friends’ house, restaurants, and so on. The memories and experiences with food are important parts of our lives, and our journeys are lifelong. This week, I want to dedicate my last post to review what I learned in the past ten weeks through discussing the family food culture.
Part I: Be a Knowledgeable Omnivore
Children are naturally curious about many things, and food is definitely one of them. When I noticed that there were difference varieties of rice, my dad introduced genetic selection and domestication to me in easy ways as an engineer. He told me that the softness, stickiness, and moist of rice can be modified through careful planting, but ultimately all the rice could be traced back to a single plant. What my parents did was noticing my interest and presenting the roots of domestication to me in a really early stage. Even though I didn’t start to realize the significance of the early domestication events and to appreciate the linkage between those events and the food in my plate, my family culture encouraged me to be a knowledgeable omnivore.
It is important to be a knowledgeable omnivore. As an omnivore, each of us needs to build a giant library in our mind to help us differentiate between food and poisons. While our ancestors were busy with building the library for themselves, they needed to acquire enough calories for their survival on a daily bases. The domestication of the staple foods, such as rice, wheat, and corn, relieved us from the latter task. Therefore, being a knowledgeable omnivore means not only knowing what to eat but also appreciating how foods become available.
Moreover, it is also important to know where foods come from. Just like the way kids ask their parents where they come from, they are interested in knowing the origin of their food. When I was little, my mom told me that my food came from soil. She told me that the seeds of the rice in my bowl were planted into soil by farmers and cultivated months later. She helped me build a connection between farmers and my life. When I asked more questions about food, she would take me to the farmers market that was close to our house, and she let me asked the farmers myself. The communication between me, as an eater, and the farmers, as the growers, turned me into a more knowledgeable omnivore because a tighter connection between food and my life was formed. Therefore, an exploratory family food culture helps us discover how, exactly, is our fundamental requirements of food satisfied.
Sometimes, however, it can be hard to be a knowledgeable omnivore. Several years ago, my parents and I were on the high way in China, and we saw a turned-over truck with hundreds of piglets, some of them were badly injured. The bad smell, inhumane environment, and the frightful injuries were my first impression of industrialized agriculture. I saw how the piglets with broken legs crawling on high ways, hoping to survive, and more piglets were squeezed in the truck. After witnessing that scene, I couldn’t eat meat for several weeks. My mom talked to me, and she said that what I saw should be seen as a lesson to realize that much were inflicted on animals in order to satisfy our demand. She suggested that we should go together to find out more about how meat was brought to dinner tables. She encouraged me to obtain more knowledge in the related field, and then made a responsible choice – for me, and for the animals.
Part II: Be a Responsible Omnivore
Trying to obtain more information about the meat we ate, my mom visited the farm, which was owned by a family that managed a small grocery store in our community, and I talked to my friend’s mom, who served as a senior manager for MacDonald. We figured that, although both businesses obtain their meat from legal, appropriate sources, we, as consumers, were much comfortable with purchasing meat from the grocery store. I felt much better with eating meat, knowing that that particular animal lived a happy life on a natural farm. I shared my ideas with my mom; she told me that many other people might not think in the same way, but that did not mean that what they thought were wrong. The prosperity of industrialized agriculture reflects the rapidly increasing demand of food, and one may also argue that ignorance and lack of transparency contribute to the prosperity to a certain degree. However, being encouraged by conscientious family food culture, people may actively make more responsible choices because they become aware of the linkage between their personal food choices and the happiness of other creatures (or the impacts on environment).
Such linkage is indeed important. As many know already, obesity is a serious health concern in America – the fast food Nation. The advertisements for fast food branches often show kids the convenience of fast food, and they often use images to hint that having fast food or junk food is linked with happiness (for example, fun time with friends). A healthy family culture should fight against such linkage by establishing another one. For example, if dinner table is surrounded by joyous atmosphere and fun bounding experience, the dots will be connected between homemade food and happiness. [Read More] In general, eating healthy food is a choice that should be made by a responsible omnivore for him/herself and his/her family.
Undeniably, omnivores in modern days have harder time making decisions. Globalization amazingly expands food choices, and GM foods provide many possibilities (positive and negative). Thus, family food culture should be unbiased, which leads us to carefully evaluate the costs and benefits of our choices. For example, when I told my dad that I wanted watermelon in winter, he told me that it would be economically and environmentally irresponsible to do that because watermelon got really expensive in winter and much energy was consumed for planting and transporting off-season fruits. On the other side, however, it is also true that globalization supports economy and, to a certain extent, accelerates the process of fair trade. Similar process can be applied to evaluating the choice of purchasing GM foods, even though an unbiased evaluation of GM foods is hard to be performed. Our family uses the precautionary principle when we evaluate the risk associated with consuming GM foods, and we decide not to purchase them before more information is obtained scientifically. Many other families may have their own risk analysis, trusting that GM foods pose acceptable risk at current informative level. The thought process conducted together by family members in a family is necessary for us to become a responsible omnivore because we have responsibilities to ourselves, our families, societies, and mother earth at the same time.
Being a responsible omnivore also means recognizing the impacts of our food choice on the environment. Fail to recognize the linkage can lead to catastrophic consequences, and the dust bowl is an example. It is a tragedy occurred when our food demand and the development of industrialized agriculture together break the limitation set by nature. Therefore, being a responsible omnivore also means being respectful; as (permanent) residents on the Earth, we should respect natural blessings and limitations. A respectful family (food) culture helps shape our gratuity because it encourages us to recognize our weakness and nature’s greatness.
Part III: Be a Respectful Omnivore
Last summer, my family went on a trip to “experience the true wilderness”. Some local hunters took us to hunt in the forest, and we were asked to collect mushrooms on the second day. Unfortunately, I did not get anything. We discussed about hunting and mushroom collecting on the dinner table later on the second day while we ate the captures the other local hunters and collectors obtained several days before. They told me that much less animals and mushrooms could be found nowadays in the true wilderness. Although they refused to conclude that over-extraction of the wilderness is responsible for the deduction, they did agree that a real hunter should respect the nature and wilderness more than anyone else does. Many mechanisms that are carefully played and balanced remain unknown to us, and we are in no way as smart as nature in terms of manipulating all the factors. Recognizing our weakness, we should be respectful omnivores because Mother Nature kindly bestows blessings upon us.
One thing that we should do is appreciating food. My mom never allows me to waste food; she believes that many people put much effort in making me be able to have the food, and wasting food is thus disrespectful. Similar ideology was referred when we talked about Columbian exchange in class. We got to see how knowledgeable, responsible, and more importantly, respectful the Africans were in terms of food and agriculture. Although it can be hard for kids to understand the respect and appreciation, a respectful family food culture can help them with the recognition. My parents take me to a lychee trip every year in June. We develop a good relationship with the lychee farmers, and they tour us around the farm every year. Their pride is recognizable because they are the “parents” of the prosperity of the lychee farm; their respect is also observable because they deeply appreciate the blessings of the nature, which are fertile land and suitable climatic conditions. Those farmers often inspire me to be more respectful and responsible because my family food culture envourages me to be a sensible eater.
I can’t believe that ten weeks pass away so fast. While I have learned much about food and agriculture, I have become more and more grateful for the family food culture that my parents manage to create. I am sure that many of us share similar experiences, which turn us into concerned omnivores (who choose to take this seminar). With all the knowledge, information, perspectives, and thoughts, we have a head start in becoming a more knowledgeable, responsible, and respectful omnivores.
“Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.” – Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill