Andrew Luzmore, Cornell University
Four months ago I sat in my first lecture of college listening to a man proudly sporting a necktie covered with images of corn. ”It always comes down to food,” he said, pointing to a portrait of a family gathered around a dinner table.
In my coursework this first semester as an Agricultural Sciences student here at Cornell, I have participated in a series of events and experiences dedicated to exploring the many of the fundamentals of food and agriculture. As a self-professed “city kid” with little farm experience, the subsequent trips to animal and vegetable farms, processing plants, CSAs and Farmers’ Markets have reshaped much of my understanding of the system by which food gets from farm to table. Aside from becoming the eventual impetus to begin writing this column, this exposure caused me to reconsider and question many of the basic perceptions I have about food, the main one being, “Why do we eat?”
The obvious response to this question is because we have to – consuming food replenishes the vital nutrients that our bodies use over the course of a day. However, we as human race do not consume nutrients, we consume food. While the majority of the vitamins and minerals we need come from our meals, the primary distinction between the two is that there is an underlying aspect of taste and pleasure associated with eating food. Often this is the sole reason we eat. How frequently have you found yourself in front of an open refrigerator, spoon in one hand and a pint of ice cream in the other, wondering how you even got there?
At its core though, eating is a social experience: one that ties us to our past and present.
Through what other lens can we gain such a deep insight into a culture’s set of values and beliefs than through its cuisine? What better encapsulates the American ideal of prosperity and mettle than the Thanksgiving Dinner? (think Norman Rockwell) We eat (or do not eat) many of the same foods our ancestors ate because they are anchored in tradition, religious or otherwise. We build friendships and relationships based on a mutual love for food. We eat in celebration as well as in sadness. Heck, as I write this entry now I am sitting on a bus headed home for Fall Break during which my family and I will eat our usual repast of bagels and lox to commemorate the end of the Jewish holiday of Yom Kipper. A meal, I might add, I have been eagerly awaiting for some time. Only a fellow displaced New Yorker can truly appreciate how difficult it is to find a good bagel outside of Manhattan.
Regardless of race, creed, wealth or religious affiliation we are all linked through the commonality of eating a meal. This is at the heart of what I hope this column becomes: a place to explore the various social, economic and cultural aspects of food that play such a large role in all of our daily lives. For whoever wants to read it, I hope it serves as a springboard for considering such questions as the one posed at the beginning of this entry, ”Does food really matter?”
My answer, not surprisingly, is yes.
Sincerely, Andrew Luzmore