What’s the real cost of food?

My friend Marc and I were discussing this NY Times article earlier this week, that purports that despite what many people believe, junk food is not necessarily cheaper than its healthy alternative, particularly for those living with lower-income. While I think that there were some unfair assumptions made about those living in low-income homes (which for brevity, I will not get into here), I do think that author Mark Bittman illustrates wonderfully the two-sided responsibility that is being shirked – by consumers, for making choices not to cook, not to slow down and choose better options (because cooking now equals work), and not demanding more of their food sources and suppliers; and by the corporate food industry, for playing into every opportunity to literally shove their product down people’s throats, making them crave more, and think less, with no regard for consequences.

Many arguments for food reform are one-sided, but if we’re to ever to make any progress, we need to hold everyone responsible for their role in doing what is right. People have a right to healthy, accessible, safe food choices, but as long as we’ve got food being chemically engineered to spur addictive tendencies, marketing strategies designed to manipulate people into repeated consumption, and representatives of food corporations lobbying on the hill, with politicians in their back pockets, the only interests protected are those of big business food. Like Bittman said, we DO have a choice. We not only have a choice to decide to plan and cook our meals, but we also have a choice to demand better from our food, its origins, and our government. We’re ultimately what makes that system thrive, not the other way around.

At the end of the day, it’s not about financial cost. It’s about what it’s costing our bodies and health, our lives, our future generations, and our planet. Sustenance is a right, not a privilege, and it certainly shouldn’t be about putting money in the pockets of those who aren’t concerned with any of the aforementioned consequences. We all have a right and responsibility to understand what’s truly at stake, and to send the message that it’s no longer tolerable.

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The Public Market.

We went to the Rochester Public Market yesterday morning, which is one of my absolute favorite things to do. If you’ve never been, you should definitely check it out. I love the sensory experience of it all: so many different people, languages, colors, smells, tastes and textures, all intersecting at once. Here are a few pictures from yesterday:

I love people watching at the market.


A sweet old man gave us samples of his golden plums...which were delicious.

Everything around is beautiful-from the produce, to the flowers, to the people exchanging kindnesses over the tables. It makes me happy to be in the midst of it. However, of everything there is to experience at the market, there is one thing that is my all-time favorite, can’t-miss stops: The Nut House. And here’s why:

The Nut Guy.

This is the man who owns The Nut House, and he is, by default, The Nut Guy. Walking down the end of the corridor, this is always the view you have of him, standing out there, smiling, handing out samples of his AMAZING cinnamon roasted almonds, and making cheesy jokes about nuts to passing couples, who always laugh. And I LOVE him. I always look forward to stopping by, chatting for a minute, and then spending too much money on those aforementioned almonds, and whatever other concoctions they’ve got available (yesterday, it was garlic roasted pistachios-SO good). I’ve learned that it’s a family business, and along with him, he’s got his wife and kids there, helping out. And they are all as pleasant and sweet as he is.
Here he is, asking Andy why he's not smiling. This is the same question he asks every time he sees him.

I think I love him, because I love the way he draws people to him, the way he laughs this huge laugh, and smiles widely, despite a missing front tooth. I love his goofy jokes, the way he takes the time to stop what he’s doing in a busy morning, and talk to strangers. And really listen. I wish more people were like that.
As always, we had a fantastic morning at the market, even if we did get a little over-ambitious with the produce purchasing. Here’s what my kitchen looked like yesterday afternoon, when I laid it all out to survey the damage:
Yikes!

So, if you can, go spend a Saturday morning at the market, and enjoy everything it has to offer. Support local businesses, score some great produce, and make sure to pick up some ricotta cookies from the Italian cookie lady. And some cinnamon almonds from The Nut Guy. Trust me, you’ll thank me for it later.

Love in a Soup Cup.

The question was posed recently-when did I think I first understood what love meant? I thought for a second, about the typical responses that question might elicit-from my parents, the first time I fell in love, my first experiences owning a pet (or a plant,even). For me, though, the answer came immediately…and was something far different.
A few summers ago, I was spending some time in DC, working. It had been a rough couple of months for me, and I’m not sure I’ve ever felt more uncertain about the direction of things than I was at that point. Nonetheless, I had been working incredibly hard, and when an unforeseen afternoon off presented itself, I decided to brave the stifling heat to go play in the city. I walked through the park near my hotel, the same one I walked through each day on my way to the train, and came upon the usual midday cast of suits and the homeless, bustlers and old men playing chess. As I looked ahead, I saw a crowd gathered, near what appeared to be a lunch truck and a few tables set up on the sidewalk. As I got closer, I realized that there were a few people serving food, to anyone who was interested. For free. There were no conditions-if you were hungry, they would feed you. And while no money changed hands, what was being exchanged was humanity. All those park inhabitants, people who would typically never regard one another, found themselves engaged in conversation. Tethered to their spots by overflowing soup cups, they were forced to slow down…and in doing so, really see the others around them. And it was all because three people decided to feed others.
Anyone who knows me, knows what high value I place on the idea of the unifying nature of food, of nourishment, and its natural communal effect. So, it’s not surprising to know that I was so fulfilled by bearing witness to what was occurring. I slowed down myself, to people watch, and then I looked down at the curb next to the truck. There sat a woman, who was presumably one of those involved in the planning of this impromptu meal on the sidewalk, and next to her sat a man. This gentleman was reed-thin, clearly without adequate means to care for himself, and could barely hold up his head. Drool spilled intermittently from the sides of his mouth. His eyes were bloodshot, and his hands were dirty. And that woman was slowly feeding him soup, pausing between spoonfuls to hold his hand, to talk to him. What I felt I experienced in that moment was the most radical, pure act of love I had ever witnessed in my life. It threw me off balance for a moment, and I swallowed hard to keep from crying. Tears came anyway. The woman met my eye, and I realized I had been looking a bit too long. She smiled at me, I returned the gesture, and kept moving.
I thought all afternoon about what I had seen that woman do for that man. That man who maybe she knew, maybe she didn’t, but regardless, she fed him. Nourished him, without condition. As someone who has devoted her life to serving others, particularly those who are most vulnerable to the things which are most devastating in this world, I knew then that replicating that act of compassion and love had to be a central driving force in my work, my life. And yes, it’s incredibly hard on some days, when people act in ways that feel less than deserving of that love. But I remind myself that reciprocity is not the point. The point is that my responsibility is to make each life in which I enter just a bit better than it was before I arrived, and to do so without expectation of something in return.