From The Editors
Few things in life translate across cultures quite like food.
Few things in life translate across cultures quite like food. Think about the first time someone introduced you to kimchi and the spices tingled on your lips as the burst of cabbage offered a clean, fresh experience. Or the first time you bit into an edamame pod to gently remove the beads with your teeth and tongue, tasting the sea salt on the shell. Or when you learned it was pronounced "ed-eh-ma-me." Or when you struggled with saying "quinoa" for the first time.
Food is fun. Food is an experience, a universal language. From the joy of gathering around a table with family and friends to the hunger pangs deep in our bellies, food comforts us, unites us, and drives us. But from the seeds to the harvests to our tables, how much do we think about the ingredients we use to nourish our bodies?
Think about a red delicious apple for instance. It's both, well, red and delicious. But if that apple was trucked across the country in a refrigerated tractor trailer, odds are, it wasn't red when it was picked, and instead, it ripened without seeing the light of day before hitting the shelf.
But what about something more complex, something processed for our consumption, say, a hamburger. From a fast food joint.
Google "how many cows are contained in one McDonald's hamburger" and you'll find results with answers ranging from 55 to more than 1,000. You'll also find that some of the sources carry clear agendas, either supporting the world's largest food chain or denouncing it for its unethical practices.
Extreme polarities exist, and the lines in between are blurred. But people do seem to be thinking about what they're putting in their bodies, and for Matthew Flowers, that all began with a hamburger.
In this issue's feature story, Flowers allows that question – what am I eating and where did it come from – to drive him to find alternative ways of living. He visited two families, both of whom are homesteading, living a life of self-sufficiency.
Rather than relying on box-stores for their goods – those apples shipped across the country – or dollar-menu dinner deals that tempt us with low cost and convenience, these families are getting their hands dirty, raising animals, cultivating produce, and plain and simple: living off the land.
And for Pennsylvanians, eating locally-sourced foods, otherwise known as being a locavore, seems to be a budding trend.
According to Strolling of the Heifers, a Vermont-based local food advocacy group that recently released its second annual Locavore Index, which ranks all 50 states and the District of Columbia in terms of commitment to local foods, Pennsylvania moved up six spots from last year's list. The organization compiles its list with data from various sources, which incorporates farmers markets, consumer-supported agriculture operations, and consumer interest in eating locally-sourced foods.
Coming in at No. 32, the Keystone State still has a long way to go to catch up with the top tier – Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire, North Dakota, and Iowa – but it's climbing the ladder and is now farther removed from Nevada, Arizona, Louisiana, Florida, and Texas at the bottom of the list, as more Pennsylvanians – Erieties included – are taking an active interest in knowing how their food is sourced.
But what about the people that don't have the time or energy or desire to raise chickens, to pull weeds from the raised bed of green beans? CSAs are on the rise, and have a great place in this feature, too. And this conversation's been had in these pages before with local grocers, like Frankie & May Fresh Grocers and the Whole Foods Co-op, doing their part to provide our community locally-sourced options, along with the various Farmers' Markets through the city and county.
And perhaps best yet, food has the ability to bring a community together. Which is why you'll also find a compelling story by Ryan Smith about the Bayfront East Side Taskforce and the work the nonprofit is doing – like raising a community garden – to combat various threats facing that part of the Erie community. And while it's just a small part of B.E.S.T.'s initiatives, it's working.
Food is fundamental to our existence in ways beyond mere nutrients. So the next time you're hungry or are making dinner plans, think about what you're eating, because an awareness of what we eat can lead to the awareness of who we are and what type of community we want to become.