Music and art are often considered the universal languages. By listening to a composition or looking at a painting, we gain unfettered access to a culture or individual we may or may not be familiar with.
In the same way that music and art transcend language and cultural boundaries, food is a universal medium for experiencing a way of life. Much as every picture is worth a thousand words, every salad, cheeseburger, plate of enchiladas or bowl of miso soup is the culmination of thousands of years of agriculture and cooking. The act of cooking takes that which was grown from a tiny seed and transforms it into a symbol of not only the chef, but the culture, time, and space of which it is a part. Every food item, from the most complex coq au vin to an orange at the grocery store, is but the final chapter in a story with much more than a thousand words.
Now covering much of Indiana’s landscape, the story of corn began over ten thousand years ago. Corn, or maize, started as a wild grass which was selectively cultivated over time to produce larger and more palatable kernels. Its origins in Mexico, the crop gradually spread throughout the Americas and finally to the rest of the world after the arrival of Europeans in the late fifteenth century. Today, corn is a staple food across the globe, rivaling those of wheat, soy, and rice. The role of corn in Indiana is as much agricultural as it is cultural, and despite a love of sweet corn as the perfect complement to a summer barbecue, the vast majority grown is used for purposes such as ethanol, animal feed, or corn syrup. Corn can come from small-scale organic producers or gargantuan monocultures, meaning that not all stalks are equal. Muncie Food Hub sources our corn from a local farming family known as Spanglers’. Their sweetcorn is well known in the Muncie community and many of our customers ask for Spanglers corn by name!
If one chooses to eat meat, they are implicated in a highly complicated story, no matter what they select. Visiting a farmers’ market and meeting the individual who raised your food allows one to learn details about how the animal was raised and eventually slaughtered, the quality of life they had and the diet they ate. Pre-packaged and processed meats from the grocery store aisle do not afford one the same opportunity. Most industrial meat production comes from concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO’s), and the story which follows often involves concerns for animal rights and pollution, costs which are not included in our purchases.
Even a red delicious apple, grown in nearby states such as Michigan and Pennsylvania, follows an elaborate path from the ground to your hand. Have you noticed how, despite a growing season shortened by Midwest winters, there is a bounty of apples available year-round? Upon picking, apples are stored in climate-controlled and cooled warehouses where they can sit for months at a time, meaning that the perfect, crisp apple you pick from the bunch in January may be nearly a year old. On an industrial scale, apple trees are subject to many of the same troubles as other crops, including pests, reliance on synthetic fertilizers, and despite farms’ proximity to Indiana, shipment of many thousands of miles and the concurrent environmental impacts of transportation. The trip to a local apple orchard may be more than a relaxing autumn outing—it may be a significant example of supporting and sustaining local food systems, a step whose lessons can be readily applied elsewhere.
The Muncie Food Hub Partnership stands at the beginning of a new chapter in our story of food. In contrast to a growing divide between us eaters and the sources of our food, buying locally often results in a cleaner, healthier product, needless to say fresher and more delicious. Whether you create a Midwestern, Indian, or Mediterranean dish with the Food Hub’s vegetables and herbs, the local food economy is strengthened and the entire community benefits. Our produce comes from eight farms within 20 miles of Muncie, meaning that the impacts from transportation are much smaller compared to supermarket goods, every option is as seasonal and fresh as you can get, and small-scale farmers in the area are supported. To learn more about us follow our Instagram (@munciefoodhub), visit our facebook page by searching (@MuncieFoodHub), or browse our website https://munciefoodhub.org/ !