Food is the most basic of necessities. Yet, food is even more than that. Food links us to others socially as we share meals with friends and family. It provides the catalyst for interaction at community events, church socials, farmers’ markets, grocery stores, and potluck dinners. It creates economic rewards through employment – for farmers and farm workers, grocery store clerks, restaurant servers, packers and processors, truckers – and it creates commerce through markets, grocery stores, restaurants, and street vendors. Food also has psychological meaning. It comforts and consoles. It links us to people and places through distinctly pleasant memories of Grandma’s apple pie, Aunt Edith’s country pot roast, Uncle Harold’s belly burnin’ chili, and Mom’s strawberry freezer jam.
Despite the importance of food, in today’s global food economy most of us know little, if anything, about the food that nourishes our bodies and our souls – where it comes from, the conditions under which it was grown, and how it got from there to here. Food changes hands an average of 33 times between the farm and the supermarket shelf, and it travels an average of 1,300 miles to reach our plates. Typically, many North Americans take food for granted, as we do the oxygen we breathe.