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Appreciating what is on my plate

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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Both my maternal and paternal grandmothers grew up during the Great Depression. That lean, harsh economic time made an indelible imprints on them – their spirits, their habits, and outlook on life. Those marks were especially present in each of their relationships to food, so much so, that 40-50 years later that I too was imprinted.

Food waste is a cardinal sin.

Eat what you are given.

Picky eaters don’t eat.

Be thankful.

My paternal grandmother grew up on a farm. My maternal grandmother was born and raised in the city; however, they both experienced food insecurity as well as extreme racial discrimination which was common at that time and place in history. (I am from Memphis, Tennessee. My grandmothers were born and raised in this region.)

Food is a necessity. We need it for nourishment, for our strength and to survive. And when a nation, even one as developed as the United States, has historical systems in place (political, economic, and educational) that creates systemic disparities between communities, then injustice results.

Although the risk of hunger from lack of abundance of food is much, much lower than it was for my grandmothers, disparities still exist. Today’s Food Justice Movement revolves around the access to quality fresh foods, affordability of healthy minimally processed foods, and the re-education of families to return to gardening, home cooking, and kitchen food processing arts that our grandparents engaged in.

I didn’t really appreciate how ignorant and dependent I was until college. I earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Animal Science, and though I’ve taken a more basic research path I still get excited (and passionate) about agriculture and food science awareness, education, advocacy and activism. Mine was a stark awakening to the importance of politics, economics, and culture on food justice, nutritional access, and eating habits.

I’m still learning and advocating. Some lessons are easier to adopt than others. I still don’t grow my own food, but I proudly cook many of my own meals and have tried my hand a canning. I still carry those lessons from my grandmothers about food. I try very hard not to waste any food. I try not to be too picky, especially when I’m eating at someone else’s table; and I am forever thankful.

These days, I also use my voice (and platform) to speak up in support of people who do the hard work of planning, planting, harvesting, and preparing the food I consciously and graciously eat.



Tomatoes from my Mother's garden

So, thank you! Thank you to all of the farmers, scientists, agriculture workers, food distributors, food processing preparers and packagers, and grocery store workers — whether small family farm, co-op, or big corporate agribusiness. Thank you to each and every one of you who work long hours and sometimes very dangerous jobs — whether legal citizens or undocumented workers.  I am eternally thankful to all of you who do all of the unseen but necessary things so that I (and millions of other Americans) can mindlessly walk into a grocery store (or if I’m very lucky visit a Farmers Market) and blithely pick whatever tasty morsels I chose to eat today and everyday.

Thank you very, very much.

DNLee About the Author: DNLee is a biologist and she studies animal behavior, mammalogy, and ecology . She uses social media, informal experiential science experiences, and draws from hip hop culture to share science with general audiences, particularly under-served groups. Follow on Twitter @DNLee5.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. tsiebertz 11:22 am 09/5/2013

    I loved this post. I also never knew what went into food production before I entered the food industry. Now I see a lot of people work very hard to make it safe and accessible. It always feels good when people say thanks.

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