I’m walking down the aisle of my neighborhood grocery store and it’s like I am in a dream. I am surrounded by boxes, packages, bags, packets, cans and tins all around me. I quicken my pace and begin to run. All the colors of a Technicolor rainbow rush past in my periphery. Fruit Loops, Oreos, Cheetos, Instant Ramen, frozen fish sticks, Cheez-Wiz…There has to be food around here somewhere! Right? Our food supply is endlessly stocked inside the massive quantity of grocery stores expertly distributed within our urban dwellings. But can it ethically be called “food”? Americans are suffocated by an abundance of food-products in grocery stores. We are told that this massive mono-cropping separated from the majority of people is the only way to economically support our population’s nutrition needs. But this is not the story for the rest of the world, or even for the entirety of our nation. Food is grown around the world in resilient and innovative ways, but the profit-seeking agribusiness of the United States restricts American’s food choices and misdirects people from the world’s abundance of knowledge regarding growing one’s own food.
There is a “single story” that has been circulating within our culture that says food simply cannot be grown in many places. We have created a food system that grows a gigantic amount of food in massive fields. The food is then shipped to the urban and suburban communities where the majority of people want to live- close to their job, school, friends and family, and shopping centers. It is a common assumption that this system is the only way to feed 316 million Americans. But we have the ability to potentially grow food anywhere! We just aren’t told those stories.
About a month ago, I attended a film-screening at the Cedar Mill Grange called Plant This Movie. (2) What I saw astonished me. Before seeing the film, I had watched guerilla-farmer Will Allen’s TED Talk. This South Central L.A.-native showed how he rebelled against the single story of inevitable obesity and diabetes in his community by growing food in the patch of grass next to the sidewalk in front of his home. Also prior to watching Plant This Movie, I had worked on an organic farm in Snoqualmie Valley for a year and a half. I had volunteered in numerous gardens since I was in the second grade. I had grown my own flowers, herbs, and even garlic in my third-floor apartment in Seattle. But I had never dreamed of the resilient ways people are growing food as unveiled in the film. I did not know that food could be grown in water from the same river people defecate in daily, or in empty plastic soda bottles hanging like a chandelier on the twenty-second floor. Did you know that vegetables are thriving on the roof of a Brooklyn hi-rise, and in soil littered with trash and chemicals in Mexico, deemed unsuitable to sustain life. People across the globe are combining their creativity with the intuition of Earth’s ancient life processes to innovate new methods to grow food. (2)
A fellow gardener once told me, “Plants want to grow.” That is what I saw in every story the film showed. No matter what situation, climate, or location people find themselves in, there is a way to grow food. Why is the “single story” that America has no choice but to rely on industrial agriculture, pesticides, and dangerous factory plants, worth examining? People deserve the right to be shown that this is in fact not the “single” way to grow food. The truth is that countries around the globe have been nourishing their populations for millennia by growing food in harmony with nature, not against her. I believe our current food system has surprisingly little to do with food. This conviction is supported by the definition “food” as well as the values that come in to play when discussing our current, chaotic food system.
Oxford Dictionaries defines food as “any nutritious substance that people or animals eat or drink, or that plants absorb, in order to maintain life and growth.” (1) When you walk in to a grocery store, you may be overwhelmed by the abundance of food that lines the aisles, shelves, bins and refrigerators. But when you take a closer look, how much of it can you honestly claim to maintain life and growth? In the media, research, and news over the past decades there have been increasing reported stories of the harmful effects of our nation’s industrialized food system. Spread of disease in meat factories and mono-cropping, poisoning waterways and oceans with fertilizer run-off, land degradation, overuse of chemical pesticides, and poor conditions for workers; the list goes on and on. These are not the values and dreams America was built upon.
So why don’t more Americans grow their own food? I believe it is because many are only exposed to the “single story.” The movement and education on how to grow your own food need to spread. Farmers, hobby gardeners, and average citizens hold a wealth of knowledge passed down through generations and learned from experience. There is an abundance of knowledge about how to grow your own food in any environment you could imagine, but it is not yet effectively shared. The majority of our nation has a scarcity of plant, Earth, and growing knowledge to maintain life and growth. We are distracted from this scarcity by the overwhelming abundance of “food products” available any time of the day, at any time of the year in U.S. supermarkets.
After watching the film Plant This Movie, I was moved by the revolution taking place to grow food in communities, and fight against the “single story” that tells us we, American citizens living in cities and neighborhoods, cannot grow our own food. I hope by exploring the many stories about where our abundance of food can come from, I have persuaded you to try growing your own food, and decrease the scarcity of food-growing knowledge in our country. And the best teacher is experience. You can start small, with a clove of garlic in a pot by your kitchen window or covering some seeds in a dirt patch by your home and watering every now and then. See what happens- you may just grow an abundance of life where there was once barren, empty space.
- “Food.”: Definition of in Oxford Dictionary (British & World English). Oxford University Press, n.d. Web. 16 Jan. 2015. <http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/
- Plant This Movie. Dir. Karney Hatch. The International Urban Agriculture Documentary, 2014. Film.