Last summer my kids and I read Farmer Boy, the classic Laura Ingalls Wilder novel about a boy growing up on a homestead in New York. It was striking what a central role food played in Almonzo’s life, and how varied and abundant his family’s diet was – almost as striking as the varied and ever-present work to be done on the farm. The Sunday dinner table groaned with fresh bread, thick-crusted chicken pie, baked beans, ‘quivering slices’ of fat pork, dark-red beet pickles, pumpkin pie and apple pie with cheese.
My other summer read, the decidedly less bucolic Orenda by Joseph Boyden, reached further back into history, painting a portrait of the early, frequently bloody, contact between the Haudenosanee, Huron Wendats and French Jesuits in what is now central Ontario. Here too, food was very present – this time with descriptions of the three sisters, caribou, fish and berries. And while there were extravagant feasts, there was also famine, drought and crop blight.
Meanwhile, my reading also fast forwarded to newsflashes that Soylent – the beige beverage which claims to contain all the nutrients the body needs – had begun shipping to Canada. In the fall, the International Agency for Research on Cancer classified processed meat as a definite cause of cancer. A University of Guelph study predicted that the average Canadian would spend 345$ more on groceries in 2016. Climate change, with all of its food-related causes, crept closer to the two degrees no one wants – but the issue finally received global attention in Paris and serious treatment in Ottawa. And the spectre of Syrian children starving in besieged villages haunted me.
All this made me question what will food in the future look like? Where are we going, where do we want to be going – and what can we do to change course?