1,500 miles. As soon as I let that sink in, there was no turning back.
1,500 miles: the average distance our food travels to get to our plates. Out of season, flavorless, petroleum-ridden, landfill-bound fruits and vegetables from around the world. Our food. My food.
When I first learned this nearly unfathomable statistic, I was living in New York City working as a sustainability consultant to some of the largest companies in the world. It was meaningful work; I felt I was doing my part. But for all my strides forward, two truths caught up with me at every turn: there is always more going on behind the curtain, and until it feels personal for most of us, we will only really be able to tweak around the edges of a flawed system.
So I started to ask more questions. How did shipping food around the world become the norm? How do we address the implications of a deeply entrenched food system that is affecting people and the planet in such destructive ways? For this, the most literal of kitchen table issues, what would “good” even look like? What would it taste like? And perhaps most importantly, how do we get there from here?
Food is at once the pulse and the barometer of society. With it we live out our aspirations, tell our stories, navigate our truths, show our love. It is also, I learned when I dug deeper, one of the few levers within our control that could holistically address the issues of global warming, desertification, flooding, human health, and food security (not to mention a few others, like waste and even loneliness)… all at once.
It became clear to me that even though this complex, interconnected set of systems fosters human life and links us to every ecosystem on the planet, in our efforts to increase yield, ensure consistency, shelf stabilize, streamline operations, and of course make more money, we have pulled apart the pieces and lost so much – nutrients, knowledge, connection, flavor – along the way.
When I first visited Stone Barns Center in 2012, a completely different take on the future of food came into focus. In contrast to what was seemingly a race to the bottom for quality and health within the broader industry, the creative hands and minds at Stone Barns Center had been busily unlocking new possibilities in food and agriculture for nearly a decade.
And I didn’t just hear about it, I tasted it. As I took my first bite of a delicious, all-American “Beetfurter,” I experienced firsthand the possibilities of a wiener made of a mix of beet – yes, beet – and pork in a proportion that reflected the optimal number of animals within this very landscape to facilitate soil health. But the learnings went even further. Both the (waste-fed) pork and the beets were leftover scraps from the Blue Hill kitchen. The bun was made of rotational grains milled onsite to retain nutrition and flavor. The mayonnaise was made from ground-up carbonized Stone Barns animal bones, the mustard from Stone Barns corn that had been fermented, and the ketchup? Beets.
Somehow, in that hot dog, I saw the potential of a brighter future through food. The potential of each of us – the farmers, the chefs, the families, and even the companies behind us all. I also saw the potential of the very systems that sustain us – the soil, the grain, the beets, the pigs and their bones. Imagine if we explored the potential of full reciprocal exchange among everything and everyone in the food system in a way that delighted our senses and invited our curiosity. How far could we go then? I believe that this is the recipe for changing the world.
The opportunity is upon us to step into the web where all of these people, systems, intentions, and experiences meet, and to train our sights on accelerating the complexities so that each of us and the planet can thrive. Not 1,500 miles away, but right in front of us – starting in the fields, grounded in our watersheds, honed by our palates, deepened through discovery and connection.
I came to Stone Barns Center because that is the work of this place, and that is the need of this time. I am exhilarated to, alongside it, continue that process of fostering the growth of wholeness, and the potential of us all.
Executive Director, Stone Barns Center