Building Community At America's Table

Announcing “One Hundred Meals – Building Community At America’s Table”

written by Ellen

Recently, Grant and I had an opportunity to sit down with some “industrial farming” folks over breakfast, on the invitation of the US Farmers & Ranchers Alliance. The group, which appears to have deep ties to Big Ag, was formed to help American farmers and ranchers of all stripes and sizes connect with the American public.

It didn’t go over very well. But, if you look in the comments, it did, in fact, start a conversation.

We learned about folks who are experimenting with half GMO corn in their field this year because the corn borer just might be extra virulent this year, since winter wasn’t winter at all. You know, we get that. Really — though we still have a lot of questions about GM crops we’d like to discuss.

We started learning a bit about the finances of big meat from a former board member of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. We might not agree with him — OK, we don’t agree with him — but we started feeling the need to at least understand him.

We got challenged about feeding the poor. It seems no one has any good answer about that, to be honest, but it does loom large over all our heads as the world’s exponential population growth makes the magnitudes of future peoples who will need food nothing short of staggering.

We launched discussions with an industrial dairy man about why we can’t get raw milk and while he talked a lot about safety, we talked a lot about how the dairy idea of safety and our idea of safety are two different things. And we want to know where we can turn to, maybe, get our voice heard.

And we learned that industrial farmers are often terrorized in their homes by “well-meaning” foodies who commit violence, vandalism and other hate crimes in the name of saving the food supply. Scary but true.

In other words, we started learning what the other side is thinking — and that they were, in fact, thinking — and we realized that what seems to be missing in the food dialogue is active conversation with people who don’t agree with each other.

We’re not talking about groups of people setting out to educate the other side. We definitely are not talking about getting the propaganda right. We’re talking about actual dialogue. The kind that sparks new ideas, broader thinking and maybe even builds some new communities.

Because in a world where one Obama is greenlighting GMOs while the other is promoting a family garden, we believe it might be time for all of us to take a step back and learn. Time to unravel the crazy contradictions, to wade through the misinformation and disinformation and get to the bottom of the hypocrisies we all have about our food supply.

Our goal is to at least understand where our food supply went off the rails and how we are supposed to live — and make good decisions about what we eat — within the bubbling mess.

After all, it can become a little difficult to make the right decisions when the answers to just about all the questions are murky and complicated. Heck, we’d venture that even the questions are essentially murky and complicated.

So, we decided to start a project.

The idea is pretty simple: start sorting out the questions, meet with the people in our food community that can give us some answers, experience first hand the realities of food, and build a platform for people on all sides of the conversation to come together and discuss those questions and answers.

To, really, bridge the divide and build community through One Hundred Meals.

Here’s the rundown:

  • We’re gonna eat One Hundred Meals with people who are involved in our food supply. We want to eat with GMO advocates, urban foragers working with the homeless, farmers of all stripes, policy makers, and even some regular folks.
  • Each one of those meals is designed to get us out of our comfort zone and into a learning zone — helping us stand up and face parts of our food supply we don’t want to think about but should probably know about.
  • We’ll share photos and stories from the meal, inviting all participants to weigh in and present their ideas and thoughts so that everyone has an equal opportunity to say what is on their mind.
  • We don’t know how long it will take. We have a website to build, funds to raise, plans to make and a lot of learning to do. And, since this is just a project and not our jobs, we likely won’t be racing through the meals one after another, either.
  • Our goal is to open up productive discussion. On the website, we are planning an extensive discussion platform and we’ll invite all to participate. But, we’ll also work to keep the conversation civil — so we hope you’ll join in but we also need you to add to the discussion, not just drag it down.
  • We’ll share an extensive reading list from all sides, helping our readers learn about topics holistically, instead of just from their own vantage point — an opportunity sorely missed in most everyday discourse.
  • Although we definitely have opinions, our goal for the site is to try to approach each topic as neutrally as possible and with as much humility as possible. We invite you to tell us if we veer off course.
  • We’d like to be a platform for building a community of food that helps everyone learn, grow, and hopefully, eat.

As I wrote on Backyarditarian.com, we both, Grant and I, would like to explore our food shed, for a time, in the spirit of the Nash Equilibrium — an expression of game theory where, in order to win, each person in food needs to make choices that contribute to everyone’s welfare.

After all, food is not a zero sum game. We either all win or, frankly, we are all going to lose.

_________________________________

To read the blog post from Ellen that started it all: Just Because the Canary Is Alive…

To read more about Grant’s food learning curve: MyFoodshed

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15 responses

  1. Shelby Bodine

    I really commend this idea! This will be a very unique and interesting idea. I will be very interested in hearing about all of your endeavors!

    June 5, 2012 at 4:09 pm

  2. I am so thankful that a conversation is happening. Everyone has questions and I mean everyone. Even those of use who grow, raise and harvest food. Our scope of what is real, good and wholesome is constantly changing. Kudos to you both for this.

    June 20, 2012 at 8:30 pm

  3. As one of the farmers who met with you in Chicago that morning, I’m thrilled to see you embarking on this journey. You’re more than welcome to come visit my family’s farm in West Michigan and see what we’re up to; and I’m very interested in hearing what you think about what we are doing.

    June 20, 2012 at 11:17 pm

    • elliecm

      JEFF! Thanks so much for the invitation! We will totally take you up on it and hope you can also introduce us to more farmers! We are specifically wanting to meet “industrial” farmers since we know a lot of awesome small/local/sustainable/organic farmers. We’ll shoot you an email shortly! Thanks!

      June 21, 2012 at 5:47 am

  4. Pingback: The Local Beet: Chicago » The Weekly Harvest 7/20/12 Sustainable Food Blogs Here and Yonder

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  6. Ellen, this sounds like a fantastic project and I wish you the best. I’m a farmer in MN, and you’re welcome to visit our farm. I’m willing to help connect you to other farmers around the country through a group of volunteer farm wives in an organization called “CommonGround”. CommonGround has volunteers from all types of farms, and the whole idea is to have conversations with people so we can learn from each other. If you’re interested in learning more, contact me or visit findourcommonground.com

    October 4, 2012 at 7:20 pm

    • elliecm

      Thanks for the invite! So cool to have readers… Even more awesome to get invites!

      October 4, 2012 at 7:25 pm

  7. I invite you to visit our family farm in Wisconsin and enjoy a meal here, including cheese made with milk from our cows (Frigo Cheesehead String Cheese among others), and that of our neighbor’s farmstead cheese plant, Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese. I want to know where my food comes from, too! While here, you can meet my five chickens, various cats, and one over-fed dog, Angel!

    October 15, 2012 at 1:33 pm

    • elliecm

      Thanks for the invite! I’ll shoot it up the flagpole with Grant.

      October 15, 2012 at 2:11 pm

  8. Emily

    I thought you might find this interesting …

    http://www.marklynas.org/2013/01/lecture-to-oxford-farming-conference-3-january-2013/

    I find your blog to be terribly interesting – it is refreshing to read a blog from people trying to understand versus someone trying to preach their position. I look forward to seeing what’s next!

    January 7, 2013 at 4:34 pm

    • elliecm

      Sorry about the delay in getting back to you, Emily. Thanks for the link and the props!
      Grant and I definitely fell off the radar post Monsanto. Partially the holidays. Partially being busy. Partially, for me at least, is where to go next after having gone there! Finding our footing again, though and hope to get back on the writing.

      January 24, 2013 at 10:56 am

  9. George L Bain

    Grant and Ellen: Just read your article in Progressive Farmer. I’m involved on a small scale (I’m 82) with another farmer here in North Carolina in marketing pasture-fed beef to a grocery store chain. My wife and I own a 200+ ac farm in the Piedmont of North Carolina. We raise as much of our own vegetables as we can. We would like to have you join us at some point for an in-depth discussion of our view point on the future and desirability of small, family- farm, sustainable agriculture in the 21st century.

    March 10, 2013 at 1:30 pm

  10. Thanks for joining us, George! We’d love to come visit you and will try to cue that up as soon as we can manage to afford broader travel. In the meantime, I hope you’ll consider that this site and our posts are places for conversation. The comment sections of posts are frequently lively and that is a terrific way for you to communicate to all the people reading here! If you want an example that may pertain to you, go read this recent post if you haven’t already and be sure to read the comments afterwards. Join in as you see fit!

    https://onehundredmeals.com/2013/02/17/meal-seven-supporting-our-farming-habit/

    Thanks! We hope to come see you!

    March 10, 2013 at 2:59 pm

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    January 19, 2014 at 6:54 am

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