Four years ago this week, I began studying agricultural communications at Purdue University. To say it was one of the best decisions of my college years would be an understatement. The experience not only enriched my life, it helped me become an informed consumer of food.
I walked from my dorm room to Smith Hall (one of Purdue’s animal science and entomology buildings) on that muggy August morning excited about my new field of study, anticipating the challenges to come. Entering the classroom, I quickly scanned the room of a 100 desks and nestled in a seat. As I settled into my seat and pulled out my notebook, I noticed my clothing choices were distinctly different from my fellow students. I wore my standard Ann Taylor Loft denim skirt, embellished t-shirt and black cardigan. My classmates? They wore jeans, boots, belts with big buckles and 4-H or FFA t-shirts.
I didn’t dwell on the fact that I was obviously a bit of a misfit and decided not to worry about the apparent differences between me and what seemed like the rest of the class. Our professor entered the room and walked over to the computer to pull up his lecture’s PowerPoint. He was a shorter, stocky, gray-haired fellow in his 60s who grew up in upstate New York and had a deep passion for horses and equine management. He looked around the room, welcomed us and then explained that this class wouldn’t teach a lot of new information to the students, but he hoped it would be interesting and beneficial. I felt relieved. Yes, agriculture was a new field for me but this class wouldn’t overwhelm me. I was smart, my GPA above average and a scholarship was paying my tuition. I likely knew this class’s content just from being a living, breathing human being who liked to eat food and keep tabs on current events.
These thoughts fleeted when my professor projected a photo of sheep on the screen and asked the class what breed they were. I assumed this was merely a creative intro to the course and no one would know the answer. Then, I heard words like Dorset, Cheviot and Rambouillet from the other students in the class. And let’s be honest- the breed of sheep didn’t really matter to me in that moment. I became acutely that more than clothing choices differentiated me from my fellow classmates. Our stories, our cultures, our backgrounds were distinctly different. And I quietly laughed at myself, realizing my pride, embracing humility and preparing to take notes for this class that would end up kicking me in the hindquarters.
Becoming an Informed Consumer
Four years removed from that day, I marvel at le Bon Dieu’s goodness in placing me in a field where three of my great passions– food, people and words– unite. My time at Purdue, the friends I made in my ag classes and the jobs I’ve enjoyed humbled me and taught me the beauty and difficulty of caring for creation.
Those experiences have let me give myself permission to live in what I call a food paradox. I shop at Aldi and Trader Joe’s. GMOs don’t bother me as long as they’re in the right hands and used for the right purposes. I’m a huge fan of the local foods scene and I strongly believe in my work for some of the nation’s leading commodity groups. There’s not a group of people I admire more than farmers, but I long to see these men and women join the conversation on the theology and sociology of agriculture.
My food paradox represents what makes Midwesterners so great. We’re not prone to extremes, and we want to be wise and do what’s right and just by our neighbors and ourselves. We encounter confusion when voices compete for our attention, telling us that this way is definitely right and this way is definitely wrong. There’s no room left for discussion of alternative ideas and hospitality of those who don’t agree with us. We are left frustrated and default to doing what is popular and/or easy.
The Goal of My Blog
I know from conversations with friends, social media and issues faced by agriculture there is a struggle to find reliable information on what we eat and develop their unique food culture. “This Midwestern Woman” is my answer to this problem. I want to help millennials like myself learn about what they’re eating and gain confidence in their food choice and cooking style. Research and my experience tells me that eating is personal and tied to our relationships, and this website will also focus on how to live well at the intersection of food and people.
The game plan is to post Monday, Wednesday and Friday. So check back then for more content. I want this blog to be a conversation. Let me know if there are questions you want answered, topics you want explored or people you want to hear from. Leave a comment, give me a Tweet or drop me an email.