By: Rebecca K.
Photo credit: Rebecca Kanter. People's Grocery Farm, Sunol, California.
Here, in the northern hemisphere, it is summer. This means gardening and pick-your-own fruit, and thus, coming face to face with nutrition's origin: the natural world. And yet, much of what we do in the study of nutrition is not outside. It is in the closed worlds of academia, laboratories, government agencies, think-tanks, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Outside, the enthusiastically crunchy young adult, the old tired hefty man with worn overalls, and migrant worker tend to crops or livestock. But these people are not unlike their counterparts all around the world, just like there are many nutrition researchers all around the world. The Korean farmer tends to his cows, as the Indian tends to his vegetables; just as all of us nutrition researchers tend to our studies. Most of the time, neither the nutrition researcher nor the farmer is aware of the other, despite the beautiful and passionately shared link between the two, food.
We leave our workplace to eat lunch and face the outside world: the smell of fried chicken, the sounds of crunching and slurping. Aside from being health-conscious and/or vegetable loving nutrition researchers, urban areas and our financial means enable us the opportunity to choose a salad for lunch over less healthy fried foods. The farmer takes a break from the hot sun, and must also decide where to grab lunch, but on a more limited budget. The rural area around the farm is either without much local produce or affordable healthy food options, leaving the farmer to choose between the corner store down the road or fast-food in town. Ironically, however, both the nutrition researcher and the farmer are likely thinking more about each other's lunch than about their own. We sit down to eat our salad and the famer sits down with a refreshing soda and tamale from the corner store. We eat thinking about the associations between ‘food deserts,' poverty, and nutrition-related chronic diseases; and they eat thinking about how to keep holes out of their lettuce and the tomatoes from getting sun-burned.
Where did the lettuce in our lunch come from? Maybe it came from the sweating migrant worker amidst miles and miles of bright green lettuce in Salinas, California, but maybe it came all the way from Mexico. What about the tomatoes? Did they come from his gentle hands, an Immokalee Florida farm worker stretching his fifty-dollars-on-a-good-day to pay his weekly eight hundred dollar rent for a two-room trailer shared with other tired immigrant men? He thinks about his family back home in Mexico and hopes they are getting enough to eat. He is glad that his children have access to free and low-cost milk with vitamins in it through the Mexican government. At the same time, he worries about his wife's diabetes that she just learned about from a health worker.After lunch, we both go back to work and the symbiotic relationship between us continues. We work to improve health and nutrition through food, while the farmer works to offer nutrition in its absolute form, natural food. So why, with the shared passion for food, is the inherent partnership between nutrition researcher and farmer so weak?