By Hannah Gartner
Being a responsible citizen of this world means understanding where one sits in it. This involves thinking about and understanding the historical, political, socioeconomic, and ecological impact of one’s actions. One great space to begin unpacking this is food, something each of us must interact with every day.
Most of us are fully aware that the majority of our food travels a very long distance to our plate. Fresh produce has the easiest origins to pinpoint, as the little sticker says what country it comes from. Harder to figure out is where in that country as well as what farm. With this in mind I grab two granny smith apples from my pantry. They are both from the US, and one includes the word “Washington”, making me believe it comes from Washington State. The other has five stars arranged in a circle, which, after a small amount of research, leads me to believe it is from Oklahoma, since the state seal there is a pentagram. I try to find more information by looking through the websites of the grocery stores I bought these apples from (City Market and Safeway), but can’t find these types of details on individual products.
This small experiment only begins to to show how complicated figuring out where our food comes from is. With processed and packaged food the difficulty grows exponentially. One box of macaroni and cheese will contain near twenty ingredients, and although it may say from where it is distributed, each of those ingredients may come from a different place. To pick apart where food comes from is therefore a huge research task.
What one can do though is get to know the global trends. Around the world their are twelve centers of food production located in North America, Central America, South America, the Western edge of the Mediterranean, Ethiopia, the Arabian Peninsula, Siberia, Central Asia, India, Western Asia and Japan, Southeast Asia, and Australia. If something you are eating was not grown or produced locally, most likely it comes from one of these hubs. We can get to know the climate and practices in each of these regions and try to buy in ways that support those that are more sustainable and fruitful.
Quite obviously the easiest way to know where your food comes from is to buy locally, or to even grow your own food. For those of us who live in higher latitudes though this isn’t a year round option, so it is important to learn how to navigate the grocery store. I hope this gets you on the right path, and here are a few more helpful links:
- Where (In the World!) Your Fruits and Vegetables Come From
- From the Farm to Your Table: Where Does Our Food Come From?