by Christina Shepherd McGuire // Photographs by David Swift
Eat less meat. This underlying theme to Mark Bittman’s presentation at ShiftJH’s People’s Banquet stuck with me. And since then I’ve tried to do so. Not because meat is bad. After all, we live in an area where boutiquey grass-fed cattle ranches are the norm. But I adopted this practice more to stay within my personal mission of “everything in moderation.” Point being—I was overdoing lately
Of course it’s not meat’s fault that our American Food Policy is floundering. That was made very apparent to me as I stared in awe at fourteen of our most-valued local food producers on the stage. These farmers and ranchers put the earth, the animals, and the consumers’ well being first with their pasture-raised ethics, biodynamic closed-looped systems, and organic growing procedures. “But when choices are bad, we make bad choices,” says Bittman. And I’m again reminded how lucky I am to live in a community where, well, the choices really are pretty good.
For the mainstream consumer, Big Ag has unfortunately worked its way into the fabric of our daily lives. We can no longer “shop the perimeter” of the grocery store—if we’re even conscious enough to do so—to guarantee we are eating healthy. Instead, Bittman reminds us of the gravity, “Food and how it’s produced is the most important medium and long-term issue that we face [as Americans].”
Okay, now I was getting a little depressed …
And then Yvonne Chouinard joined Bittman on stage and I immediately cracked a smile. There they stood, a New Yorker in his suit and Italian loafers and a casual Californian in his button-down and slip-ons, both representing the same issue from two very different backgrounds. They spoke about regenerative agriculture, barley as a cover crop, sustainable cotton growing practices for clothing, and restoring buffalo to the high plains of Montana.
But what truly hit home was when they challenged the audience to make our own personal food policies better. Besides making a difference by consuming less industrially processed meats and eating more from the plant kingdom, Bittman also mentioned that we should be working on school food. After all, it starts with the children, right? And with that, I shot a knowing glance to my friend, fellow mother, and companion for the evening, acknowledging our hard work in our elementary school’s garden, helping children develop a relationship with their food.
So if the take-home message is to provide an environment where the healthy choice is the easy choice, I bring it back to our community, the farmers on stage, the luxurious food I enjoyed at the banquet that night, and my own school’s farm-and-garden program. And I realize—it’s not really about the meat at all.