“What are you going to write about Edible Institute?” my friend Helena asked as we meandered up the mountain road back to her house after a day of learning about responsible behavior in the growing, handling and consumption of food.
It was not a trick question, but still, I didn’t have an answer for her. At that point I was overwhelmed by the deluge of information I was trying to absorb.
Put on by Edible Communities, Edible Institute is a weekend-long event at which all the buzzwords like organic, sustainable, green and biodynamic are tossed around by people who don’t just talk the talk–they seriously walk the walk. Heavy hitters in the realm of food responsibility and justice who spoke to us included Barry Estabrook, Tracie McMillan, Jonathan Bloom, Gary Nabhan and Nikki Henderson to name but a few.
It is easy to be overwhelmed by all that needs addressing. There’s massive food waste, corruption, hunger, greed, lack of incentive to do the right thing, squandering of limited resources, exploitation of the labor of migrant workers and of children both domestically and abroad, not to mention the feeling of futility that arises in the face of it all. The list seems endless, but the people who were discussing these problems were not merely hand wringers. They are movers and shakers in the area of food justice. While they spent significant time enumerating the litany of problems, they also outlined ways in which we are capable of fixing them.
Personally, I’m an advocate of baby steps as a way to move forward. They help me go from standing still to movement, which can be the most difficult part of any enterprise (ol’ Mr. Newton was spot-on about inertia and momentum). Baby steps keep me focused and help prevent me from faltering too easily. Because of time and money constraints, it’s difficult for the average civilian to go whole hog into every aspect of living a cleaner, greener more responsible and humane life. So baby steps are a good way to begin. A good way to make the entire trip, if need be. As the adage goes, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
I found the answer to Helena’s question in the four hens in her yard and the two pails of organic recyclables in her kitchen.
Her hens gladly gobble up fruit and vegetable trimmings from the tin in the kitchen labelled “for chickens,” along with spindly plants from the garden that have outlived their usefulness. In exchange, the hens provide eggs that have been produced from their healthy, non-chemically contaminated diet.
The garden receives the “not for chickens” tin’s contents of coffee grounds, tea bags and other bits that provide nourishment for what’s growing there.
At Edible Institute we learned that a full 40% of the food produced in the United States goes uneaten, enough to fill the Rose Bowl every day. A handful of kitchen scraps might not seem like much, but the chickens and garden create food from stuff that would have taken up space in the landfill. And there’s something about producing your own food that makes you a lot less likely to waste it.
Helena’s chicken-and-garden set-up helps provide a variety of food for her table. It gives her something fun and instructive to enjoy with her grand kids. It’s a good excuse for being outside, enjoying fresh air, sunlight and nature (although the gophers are providing a little more nature than Helena’s happy with at the moment!). And seeing her set-up encourages me. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has been heartened by a glimpse into her yard farm, which she built a piece at a time.
Just think of any monumental task you might undertake. Losing weight. Getting fit. Learning a new language. Mastering the guitar. All of these things must be accomplished in increments. You know, baby steps. It takes awhile to build up momentum. But we can get there one step at a time. Maybe it’s growing a few herbs this year and adding some tomatoes next. The size of the step isn’t as important as making sure a step is taken.