This article by Rona Roberts first appeared in Nougat Magazine, October, 2006, in an issue devoted to politics.
On September 12, 2006, I cleaned up after a meeting at my house. I made myself a little late night snack: a sliver of Kentucky Bleu cheese on a slice of Honey Crisp apple. The creaminess and crunch, nuttiness and sweet-tartness sent me into a tiny dance in my kitchen. I had a happy mouth.
Kenny Mattingly and his family made the cheese in Austin, Kentucky, from their cows' hormone-free milk. Dana and Trudie Reed and their loyal crew grew the apple on the border of Bourbon and Harrison Counties. I checked the distance my snack traveled to the Lexington Farmers Market, where I bought both ingredients:
- Kenny's Farmhouse Cheese, Austin, Kentucky, to downtown Lexington: 149 miles
- Reed Valley Orchard, Paris, Kentucky, to downtown Lexington: 21 miles
That makes 170 'food miles.' Compare to the 3,550 food miles an apple from Washington and cheese from Wisconsin must travel to reach my kitchen. My Kentucky snack not only tasted fantastic, it had good politics.
I first got excited about politics in Mrs. Ruth Thompson's high school French class in Monticello, Kentucky. Mrs. Thompson had never been to France. She must have been around 70 when I took her demanding, terrifying class.
When Mrs. Thompson told the story of the French Revolution of 1789 and its slogan ' Liberty, Equality, Fraternity ' her voice trembled and her color rose. She seemed able to see beyond our old classroom into some fine realm where people dedicated themselves to living according to high principles. Inspired by a great teacher's passion, I still feel my own heart rise when I hear these three powerful words. I consider them the cornerstones of ideal public life and self-governance.
Recently I see that these words apply directly to a revolution underway in the world of food. It is easy to connect food to the second and third ideals. All of us know of work to make good food equitably available to all people, and all of us recognize that food sustains friendship, conviviality, and a sense of community. It has taken me considerably longer to begin recognizing how the first principle of liberty applies to food.
Five years before my happy apple and cheese moment, on September 12, 2001, I worked with a shaken group of Kentucky growers and farm policy experts charged with developing a long-term plan for Kentucky agriculture. With red eyes and drawn faces, people applied themselves to working on Kentucky's agricultural future. Unimaginable attacks from still unidentified enemies wiped out a lot of the assumptions we had held two days earlier about our state's future. We had no idea, yet, whether the attacks had ended. People left the room often to make phone calls or listen to news on their car radios.
Resolved to work for something good in the face of terrible loss, the small group of people pressed on as best they could, facing a frightening new world. Wendell Berry, a group member, said an old tenet of war held that long supply lines create great vulnerabilities. I had never heard that statement. It hit me forcefully.
In an instant, I envisioned the contents of most Kentucky refrigerators and pantries and realized we had given up our birthright of food freedom. With only sages like the incomparable Wendell Berry realizing it, the rest of us had made ourselves dependent on food and trucks from California and Florida. Our long supply lines extended across thousands of miles to Chile and Mexico. One day after September 11, 2001, our lack of food self-sufficiency spelled out a plain case of homeland insecurity.
We know more now about ways to increase our food freedom and security. Support is growing for farmers' markets, seasonal farm 'subscriptions,' organic production and fair treatment for farm workers.
We can make this political revolution personal and even more powerful if we choose to grow some of our own food next year. We have the fall and winter months to read up on gardening, choose seed, and ask neighbors how they cultivated their beautiful pears or peppers. If we like joining, we can find groups locally and online who share our interests in food that tastes wonderful and has good politics. In these small, satisfying ways we can increase our food freedom.
Resources to increase food freedom:
Read more Nougat articles by Rona.