By Frannie Einterz, Big Red Eats Green Fall Festival Intern
As an intern working closely with the Food Working Group, I am slightly embarrassed to admit I am a neophyte in the food community. I am a firm believer, however, that my recent initiation as a self-proclaimed “foodie” gives me a heightened ability to sniff out all things food-related including farmer’s markets, local food vendors, news articles, books, websites etc. It’s quite overwhelming, and I feel like I’m on a sensory overload that often results in sudden exclamations (and some jumping up and down) whenever I see, hear, or read something new. I am confident I am starting to annoy my family and friends who patiently resort to ignoring me or annoying me…on purpose. My sister especially feels compelled to frequent every taco bell and fast food restaurant whenever I come home to visit. I assure her she is promoting a healthy growth of her waistline. It is all in good fun, but a week ago I felt somewhat stalled and slightly lost in a small community of deep believers with few converts.
I returned this weekend from a weeklong road trip that took me to the east coast. I crossed seven states, soaking in the scenery, economy, and various universities. Constantly attracted and ever aware to all things food related, the east coast became my Mecca. It all began as I traveled through Rhode Island. I was immediately struck by the well-coordinated system of Farmer’s Markets along the way. Each time I spotted one, I crooned ecstatically while my traveling companion, defiantly eating an Arby’s burger, rolled his eyes. But truly, the little state had a remarkably well-advertised local food system that could only be described as impressive. The signs along the highway frequently promoted a family-owned farm or orchard, and every town sported a large plaque indicating the direction of the nearest local, fresh food or market. I was in heaven. Granted, Rhode Island is the size of Indiana’s Marion county and her surrounding counties, making it simpler to knot together the local food community. However, the giant effort to obviously prioritize the local food system is what most struck me.
My experience in Rhode Island was not isolated. After admiring the hallowed halls of the Yale physics building, I dragged my friend to the opposite side of campus to admire the on-campus farm. The garden sits just to the North of a large hill on the outskirts of campus. It is the focal point of their sustainable food project, and is reminiscent of our own Edible Campus Initiative. In Boston, I discovered a similar project had taken root at Harvard. It was heartening to see the similarity between the three projects and feel a sense of unity with students living across the country.
As I traveled, I could practically see the crumbs I left behind marking my trail of food sites. It began on the Highline trail in New York City, climbed to the fresh scallops we ate for dinner along the Boston Harbor, and finally landed in Scranton, PA where I participated in driving generous restaurant donations to a soup kitchen. When I came home, I was even greeted by an article in the Indianapolis Star reporting the rising demand for fresh, natural, organic, and sustainably produced foods, causing managers to increase selection and drive down prices.
I finally had the revelation I should have realized without the help of a road trip. Change is slow, it is patient, but it is happening. People are taking a stand, they are changing the way they eat and are concerned. Perhaps I am over-exaggerating. Perhaps my novice senses are overly aware. From all these connections, I felt a shift this past week. It was a shift from pessimism to optimism. A shift because there are connections growing deep roots and awareness is blooming in their wake.