A commonly-heard phrase in one of the most popular restaurants in Omaha, Neb. is, “Would you like a muffin with your steak?” Be assured, when a young Midwesterner announces her plans to become a vegetarian, she will be met with the clatter of forks and frequent echoes of, “You are buying into the liberal media!” Food is personal, political and a huge part of how we communicate with people. For many of us, meat and agriculture are building blocks of familial identity. You might be hard-pressed to find an ancient, wrinkled, sticky index card with a vegan cookie recipe your great-grandmother passed down to your kitchen.
Eating food is a way of respecting tradition and maintaining relationships, but how do we recreate generational dishes in a food industry that is, in the United States, unrecognizable from what it was 100 years ago? Your breakfast may have traveled more than you have in the past year, which is both a blessing and a curse. Globalization has brought us the largest amount of food at the cheapest prices that is available any time of year, a concept that would not have been familiar to our grandparents.
The fact that the supersize option exists is wildly amazing. In most major cities, McDonald’s and Burger King restaurants are scattered everywhere with the distinct purpose of filling bellies and satisfying cravings. Older generations often marvel at the unlimited access to cheap and tasty food. We have plumped up our chickens, fattened our cows and pumped hormones into animals to increase milk production, all with one noble intention — to feed the masses. We have food engineered to a science, but still, something is missing. Despite the fact that the United States has an enormous food surplus, distribution problems still pervade. Breaking from the commercial food industry is a unique privilege in the United States. While Market Basket eggs cost about $1 a dozen, you can buy a small organic green juice for $15 across the street. There is a reason no one wants to be friends with the vegan Whole Foods junkie who takes every opportunity to preach the healing power of kombucha. Who gets to choose what’s on their plate?
In this column, we want to explore the politicization of food in the United States, such as the classism of diets, family dynamics and food, the myth of organic food, worker injustice within the meat industry and the masculine dominance of meat. Coming from the perspective of two vegetarians who have never had to worry about getting enough food, we have an implicit bias. That said, we really want to examine all nuanced perspectives of this topic, not excluding any voices or imparting judgement on any side.