Over the course of the next few months, I want slowly to share the key experiences that have shaped me in terms of food and agriculture. My story isn’t linear. Only when my love of food and agriculture began growing in college did I begin to see the significance of my childhood and family history. And only when I realized my own personal (albeit untraditional) ties to food and agriculture, did I find the deep energy and passion to pursue a career around these topics. This week and next, I’m looking at my college years.
Talking with the Food Secure and Insecure
Throughout my junior and senior years, I listened to a diverse group of men and women tell me their stories about life and food.
I sat in a government subsidized community home in the inner city and listened to the story of woman on food stamps and addicted to sugar. She had become a Christian months earlier, gave up drugs, alcohol and prostitution as a result, and now found an outlet for her addictive habits in sugar.
I interviewed a mother of three in the living room of her home situated in a lovely neighborhood. While we talked, she ate a salad of grilled chicken, lentils and fresh greens. We discussed her and her husband’s convictions to purchase certain foods from certain stores and prepare them a certain way.
The goal of the conversations like the ones described above was simple. I wanted to learn about the relationship between personal culture and food choices and understand what role that relationship plays in food security and insecurity. I learned that the reasons we eat the foods we do is complicated. Personal habits, tastes, financial limitations, food availiabilty and values all have a role. To wag a finger at one group of people and say they’re the reason for a particular food problem is unfair and naive.
Most importantly, my research showed me how personal food is. Our food habits and preferences are tied to our most precious beliefs and experiences. To criticize an individual’s food choices is to criticize something much deeper about his/her life. I was deeply humbled by the participants’ willingness to open up and make themselves vulnerable. The experience made me slow to flaunt my food choices and slow to judge others’ choices.
I would be remiss if I didn’t draw attention to the woman who pushed me, encouraged me, urged me to present and publish what I discovered, believed in me, spoke truth to me and listened, listened, listened to my ceaseless verbal processing. The Lord’s goodness to me was evident in countless ways at Purdue, but especially when I met Abigail Borron (pictured below with my ag comm professor, Dr. Tucker). She gave me the freedom to talk about my work in light of my faith and ramble about the connections I saw between Downton Abbey and the research. It was gift to watch a professional woman let her faith influence her work as an ag communicator and give voice to the voiceless. She had me for dinner. I babysat her daughter. We cooked together, she gave me sound advice on love and life. We drank a lot of coffee and tea (occasionally tears were present too) at Greyhouse.
We joke we’ll write a book one day, and I hope that dream comes true. Until then, read this piece I wrote Abigail.
Trying my Hand at Journalism
The summer between my junior and senior year, I spent three weeks in New York City with World Journalism Institute– an intensive writing program affiliated with World Magazine.
I rode the subway to Harlem to interview pawn shop owners, created video segments about life in NYC and learned about writing – and living – from some great journalists. My fellow students were an impressive bunch too. Several of them went to write for World Magazine and other publications fulltime. It’s always a treat to see their bylines.
Although I veered away from the newspaper and magazine world professionally, WJI continues to shape my practice of and approach to writing.
I was taught to look for threads of grace and redemption while not shying away from the dark, the hidden, the uncomfortable, the sinful. Although I had learned how to do this in interpersonal relationships throughout college, WJI showed me how to apply that same approach to my work as a writer.
My conviction to choose God’s truth over an agenda were cemented during those few weeks. This may seem like an obvious conviction, but my experience in agriculture tells me it’s messy. It’s easy to get caught up in the noble goals of food crusades, agriculture movements and charismatic personalities.
The writer who follows Jesus is tasked with looking for the grace and the depravity in every circumstance, making sense of it in light of God’s word, then reporting accordingly. Jesus is who I will answer to when my career — when my life — is over. And I am accountable to him and his word, not furthering a specific group’s agenda, even if a group’s end goal is noble.
The heavens declare the glory of God, the streets (and fields) proclaim the brokenness of man and grace is common and extraordinary. That’s the meta-narrative I look for and attempt to capture in everything I write thanks to WJI.
And the community during those three weeks in NYC gave me the confidence to pursue that goal without fear.