By Susan Taylor
I was surprised and intellectually disarmed to learn that one of my friends who holds a master’s degree from a top American university was unaware that in order to produce chicks, both a hen AND a rooster must be involved. Imagine how dumbfounded I felt to explain to an expert in crisis mitigation that the eggs sold in super markets won’t hatch. While this may seem like only an amusing anecdote, it points to a deep disassociation with our food.
In light of the enormous demand posed by the ballooning world population, how can the human race grapple with those problems if our educated elite, who tend to be located in urban centers, have deemed knowledge of food production tangential or useless? Often, I hear meat eaters express the thought that they couldn’t slaughter their own meat – it’s disgusting, dirty. The assumption seems to be that our food should arrive on our supermarket shelves by means of a sort of Immaculate Conception. Setting aside the topic of meat and eggs, even our vegetables and grains require fertilizer; PepsiCo has shown that the process of fertilization is the most carbon intensive step of producing orange juice, contrary to what we might expect given all the talk about the impact of transportation.
Of course, the food experts know such details, but each and every human being depends upon food for continued existence. In order to make healthy and sustainable choices, we need a broader knowledge of food than what tastes good or which dishes pair well with what wine. That knowledge should include the dirty details about how the animals we eat procreate; the effects on the human body and the environment of our diets; and the benefits and drawbacks of the fertilization techniques of the first green revolution. In the process of urbanization and distancing ourselves from food production, we have shunned a wide understanding of information that is critical to human life. Surely, our less educated, agrarian ancestors would consider us profoundly ignorant.
- Susan Taylor plans to graduate with her master’s degree from the University of Tokyo in 2012. Her interests include urban studies, energy and climate change, food security, international relations, and Japan.