What immediately stuck with me from these meetings is Pollan’s point that “the way we eat represents our most profound engagement with the natural world. Daily, our eating turns nature into culture, transforming the body of the world into our bodies and minds” (10). At the end of this academic year I engaged in a, let’s say peeving, conversation with my organic chemistry lab professor. He kept badgering me as to why I would willingly spend my summer working with farms and other food structures, essentially asking the question: why do you care about food?
This answer that I wish I came up with was Pollan’s aforementioned insight, however the best I could craft at the time was, “Everyone has to eat!” What Pollan’s and my response reveal to me upon reading all of this weeks excerpts is that a lot of the fascination with food and the importance of studying food is it’s systematic quality. Food isn’t just fascinating because it tastes good, we can create it from almost nothing, or that it is required for survival, it is ultimately because it is a topic with so many dimensions and subtopics that no one could every get bored by it. Don’t like reading about McDonald’s, fine lets learn about bees.
It could be my own scientifically minded biases projecting onto the topics of our readings, but systems literally make up all of human life, society, and culture so they must have some sort of intellectual popularity. After reading the excerpts form Pollan, Schlosser, and McKibben I, as a classic liberal arts student, immediately attempted to find their unifying connections and figure out why John Elder has grouped them together. This task proved trickier than normal, but I think I’ve come up with something rather clever. Each excerpt illuminates a different definition of what exactly a system encapsulates.
Pollan likens the food system as food chain, whether industrial, organic, or hunter-gatherer. Schlosser than describes a food system that is much more economic and corporate, consisting of consumers and a business that provides goods. Finally, McKibben gives us familiar with Vermont a ‘local’ example of a system, though one on a somewhat small scale. Keeping bee colonies is like looking after the welfare of a miniature, yet incredibly complex, system. It is quite the “profound engagement with the natural world” because harvesting honey is reaping the benefits of the work of other organisms, while beekeepers attempt to make the process as easy as possible. While the more intrusive efforts to help might not the most effective, this symbiosis of sorts illuminates just how direct humans’ interaction with food systems can be. Food, namely the idea of food systems, gives bees and McDonald’s a linking quality. Maybe that’s why I decided to spend my summer doing this.