The Parable of the Little Bird
Yup, I have been suffering ‘advocacy fatigue’.
As I walked to the Oren Hesterman book signing last night, I wondered why. Surely not the free beer and the small bites. Networking? Maybe, but it’s starting to be the case that I know everyone in a room like that. Content? Am I really going to hear something new? Look, I’m on local food list serves. I follow all the leading thinkers on Twitter and Facebook and I read their articles and blogs. I am tapped into the food advocacy scene and I’ve started to feel a little like the messages are the same everyday: We are an unhealthy nation and our illnesses are largely diet-induced. Studies show that more people are eating and demanding healthful, organic food. Urban ag policies are improving. Michelle Obama is pushing for better foods and solutions to our food deserts while her husband and Tom Vilsack continue to allow the Monsanto and genetically engineered foods lobbies to win out…the antithesis of what Michelle is advocating for. The news is the same. Yes, our food system is creeping toward better, but the news is the same. We are flooding the news world with healthful food news…that in and of itself is great, but as a reader of this news, I guess I’m getting fatigued.
So why was I going to this event? Two reasons. A friend invited me, and I was surprised that I did not know Oren Hesterman. I needed to go see what he is about, hear him speak.
He seemed genuine enough and you can’t argue with his ideas of encouraging people to transfer from being “conscious consumers to engaged citizens” and of “moving the cause of our broken food system a couple notches higher”. All good stuff…and exactly what I expect to hear from food advocates speaking these days. I don’t envy them, because again, the message is the same every day.
But wait, ‘ol Oren had a trump card to play. He ended by comparing our broken food system to the political system in place in East Germany in 1988. There was a wall dividing East and West then and no one would have guessed that in August of 1989, the bricks would fall, that the tipping point would be reached and the system would change. It was sudden and shocking.
Oren didn’t know this as he spoke to us, but in 1988-89, I was a German major studying in Munich and in the spring of 1989, I spent ten days studying in East Berlin. At the time, Western tourists could visit on a day visa, but no longer. We had an unusual arrangement and were studying with East German students and professors, talking openly with them about their feelings and living among them for ten days. And you think Chicago has food deserts? Well, I can tell you the food situation there was pretty bleak, but that’s another story. I would like to tell you Grant’s parable of the little bird:
We took the train underground from West to East. I passed through customs and was sitting outside the East Berlin train station, waiting for the rest of my group. Here I was, behind the Wall, in East Berlin and it was incumbent on me to experience and draw conclusions. I did so immediately. I watched a little bird land and hop around near me. It occurred to me that this little bird was free to come and go where ever it chose in the world, and the people around me, the students and teachers I was about to meet, could not. It was that simple. It was that clear to me that the East German experiment was wrong, because freedom was right.
I will now begin to read Oren’s book, Fair Food, and I hope he is right and we are nearing a tipping point. I hope leaders and eaters alike will soon come to the conclusion that we must also act like a little bird and eat the foods that are native to us. Birds in nature do not eat highly processed foods and genetically engineered crops. Neither should we. It seems so simple to me: a bird should be able to come and go from East to West and man should eat food, natural food. To me, it’s as simple as a little bird.