Knowing the Distance from Land to Plate

By Tara Alley

It’s kai-oat (coyote), not kai-oat-ee (coyotee).  It’s a highway, not a freeway, and dang it, it’s a crick, not a creek.  And yes, sir, Montana is a state.  Nine months ago, I made the move from Montana to California, and as a prime example of why one should never leave the safety and camaraderie of organic, sustainable realms of people, or associate with anyone outside of a Trader Joe’s when not in farm country, upon having been asked where I was from and responding, “Montana,” I have been met with the response “Is that a state?” twice now. And these two were not the 400 of the 500 that asked the same thing but jokingly.  These two were dead serious.What are we teaching kids in geography these days?  Is 49 states too many?  Do Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Idaho not count either?  Do we know anything about what’s happening outside our own state anymore?  Anything that’s happening outside our own city even?

You start thinking, “Farm to Table,” and you wonder how that begins to break down in today’s society when people haven’t heard of Montana other than in passing and wondered if it was a state?  I’d like to respond and ask where they think that Black Angus beef on their plate came from, but I fear I’d get something like “McDonald’s” for a response.

It’s daily shocking to me how limited the knowledge of the world around me is right now.  Granted, I’ve been warned that Orange County, CA is more bubble-like than most places. But is not Dallas the same? Or Washington D.C. and certainly NYC are not that much more aware of where their food comes from?  If, for instance, I were to go ask any child over, let’s say 3 years old, in my hometown, where the scrambled eggs on his plate came from, he would tell me “the chicken coop.”  Heck, he’d probably even tell me the names of the chickens who could have laid the egg.  If I were to walk down to Laguna Beach, I don’t think I’d have such luck.  I imagine, rather, that the idea of a “chicken” is associated with a letter “C” in a storybook.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining that someone doesn’t know about “Montana.” I’m simply disheartened by the fact that we take so little time to think about where anything we eat comes from.  California just so happens to be the biggest dairy producer in the U.S. but few Californians seem to be even mildly aware of that.  In fact, in my 9 months here so far, I have yet to see any local cheese advertised anywhere outside of a farmers market.

Let’s take it even further, to those who don’t know that MT is a state, I could say yes it is, and then say back: And in case you didn’t know this about your own state, California is:

The nation’s number one dairy state.  It’s leading commodity happens to be milk and cream.  The second commodity is grapes.  The fourth is beef.  Included in the list of products grown for the U.S. exclusively in California (meaning 99% of the total production of these comes solely out of California) include: pistachios, persimmons, kiwis, olives, prunes, artichokes, almonds, dates, figs, walnuts, and raisins.  Oh, and it also happens to produce 90% of the total  strawberry supply in the U.S.

All this farming, and a tremendous amount of it ending up “on the plate” so to speak, yet where, where is the disparity happening that results in such a lack of knowledge.  Why isn’t there more pride in our land, our agriculture, our ability to grow our own food?  Why isn’t there a pride that states like Montana and Wyoming with wide open fields still exist?  Why are fifth graders already more concerned with Prada and Gucci than just sitting down with mom and dad and enjoying a delicious, freshly made meal with organic, locally grown foods?

I don’t have the answers and I don’t imagine its much different anywhere you go.  But I do imagine that’s why there’s such a breakdown in the lack of effort to shop local or eat local.  If it appears to be more work and there’s no influence apparent on why its any better, who would really care?  I can’t even say that states like Montana or those in the bread bowl or the beef-producing states are any further ahead.  Some states may be naturally more geared to make it more accessible knowledge, but is that enough?  From what I can tell, no, not really.

What do you think?  Where is the breakdown happening?  Why is there such a lack of concern about where or how our food comes to us?


Contributed by Farm to Table