At the Summoned to Wholeness conference we attended a couple of weeks ago we heard a farmer from Kentucky discussing, among other things, the challenges and difficulties of promoting and delivering good locally-produced food to poor communities. He made some interesting points.
For example he noted how food relief, both from charities and publicly funded sources, often provides predominantly food that is not nutritious and is of poor quality. In fact, often it is food that we know will damage and ultimately destroy human health. Do we want to minister to people by giving them the cheapest least-healthy food possible?, he asked. I’ve raised that same question in our own faith community. I strongly believe we ought not be giving people food we wouldn’t eat ourselves.
One of the problems we’ve observed, and the speaker had as well, is that people in poor communities often prefer crappy food. Obviously that’s an over-generalization, but one that has generally been true in my experience. According to the speaker, it is generally true in Kentucky as well.
He discussed an interesting exception to this generalization, however. Among the so-called ethnic communities he serves in Kentucky there is still a preference for good quality food. Even in poor communities of Mexican-Americans he says they will gladly pay full retail price for naturally raised chicken, because the people still know what a chicken is supposed to taste like, not having yet been acculturated to prefer chicken nuggets and the like.
He argued that we must promote good food with a sense of urgency. We have to act now, he said, while there are still people around who know what good food tastes like.
Our customers and CSA members are an interesting mix of folks. Some are drawn to our food primarily for health reasons, because they are recovering from serious illness, for example, or trying to avoid it. Others are primarily motivated by ethical, religious or spiritual objections to the industrial food system. Some are generally motivated by concerns for the welfare of the environment. Obviously most have a mixture of these and other motives. But some are primarily motivated simply by a desire to have food that tastes good. They want to eat food that tastes like the food they ate when they were growing up.
In other words, they still remember the taste of good food.
Obviously it is possible to persuade people who have never eaten good food to make the switch. But it’s a no-brainer for those who already understand and appreciate the damage our industrial food system has done to the taste of food.