The Green Earth Experience
I didn't know what food was until I was almost 21 years old. I had lived most of my life eating either what was literally forced down my throat, placed before me at a table, marketed heavily to me, or appealed to my senses and my mostly unsophisticated and immature tastes. In the spring of 1989 that began to change. I was hired as a cashier at a small health food store in Evanston, Illinois called The Green Earth. In the span of about six months I began my journey towards learning what food really is.
As a cashier operating a manual cash register I had to constantly refer to price lists for produce, and I often had to ask customers what some of these strange looking items were they were purchasing. Things like kale, kohlrabi squash, kumquats, celery root, and Jerusalem artichokes. This stuff looked weird to me. What do you do with it? What does it taste like? Even the things I did recognize made me wonder to myself "where in the world do these folks find the time to eat so many vegetables"?
I felt that it was my duty as an employee to make an effort to become more familiar with the products we sold at The Green Earth, so I began to sample some of the foods I had never tried before. I started with things like natural cookies and other snacks (of course), and progressed to more fresh fruits and vegetables. I eventually experimented with every one of the vegetables I thought were "weird", and moved on to some of the packaged goods that I saw were popular. My first major leap was into the world of tofu. This item was the most intriguing to me because I saw so much of it go through my register lane. It appeared that if you considered yourself a true believer, this dense, cold, unappealing, white block of soybean curd had to be a staple of your diet. My first attempt didn't go so well. I knew that it was a meat alternative, so I cut it into (uncooked) cubes and decided to try it with some natural pasta sauce over some whole wheat spaghetti. The experience was less than amazing. I got much better at it over time.
As I began to ask the store owners and other employees what foods they enjoyed and why, I learned that although their food choices had something to do with taste, the decisions they were making were mostly about health, sustainability, principles, and empowerment. Over the next 28 years, my experience in the natural and organic food community has put me in touch with people who have overcome so many health related problems through diet and lifestyle change. I've learned that the way food is grown has the potential to impact the environment, the workers who help produce it, and the people who consume it. I've seen the positive economic and social effects of this movement, and I am fully committed to the idea that food culture has the potential to strengthen and empower individuals and communities.
I now know what food is. I am a food activist. I believe that my years of experience have prepared me for the mission I am embarking on. I want more people to understand food the way that I do, and make empowering choices for themselves, their communities, and the environment. I plan to continue to learn the ways of production, distribution, and marketing to better support farmers and producers. I also plan to continue to share my experiences in an effort to promote food justice, and to educate, and encourage more people to make choices that reflect ownership and empowerment around one of life's most basic staples. Love the people. Feed the people!