“Shake the hand that feeds you,” a quote taken from Michael Pollen’s In Defense of Food: An Eaters Manifesto. Pollen’s book explores the way Americans eat and offers advice on how to get back to eating real food in place of over processed convenient food. In retrospect, convenient food meant heading out to the garden to pick some tomatoes or grab some fresh eggs from the chicken cope. Today, convenience is the drive-thru window and mechanically altered meat. Recently, I asked a group of grade school kids if they could eat a rainbow. They looked at me and the other instructor as if we had lost our marbles. Most replied with a loud, “no.” One responded with, “Yes, if you eat Lucky Charms.” Another shouted, “You mean, like eating Skittles?” Fortunately, one girl spoke up and said, “Yes, with vegetables and fruit.”
Most Americans remain out-of-touch with what is considered real food. Generations of rural farmers are in danger of becoming extinct. Mason jars are now a trendy cup to put pretty drinks in or hang decoratively from a ceiling. The concept of canning to provide food for the winter months is a tall tale told by our grandparents. Even with such disconnect from our food, surveys show that American’s are choosing foods to better their health. However, thanks to deceptive marketing and media, the average Americans’ perception of “healthy” is wildly inaccurate. Consumers want to be healthy and eat right, but they are confused. The simplicity of eating real food is lost. It has been reported that just about every brand on the shelves and in the produce section of a big box supermarket is owned by less than one-dozen multi-national food companies.
Efforts to change this mentality started in the 1970’s with the farm-to-table movement. The founders set out to educate consumers on the importance of eating locally grown food and understanding where food comes from. Modern day activists are motivated by the raising concerns of food safety including genetically modified foods and pesticide used in conventionally grown foods. Global industrial farmers dominate food production. Increased demand for conventional foods means a need in increased supply. Hormones, pesticides, and herbicides are used to promote growth, increasing supply. The focus is more on quantity not quality. If industrial farming continues to grow, rural farmers will continue to die out. Ultimately, industrial farming will be dictating what we eat. Local food relies on sustainable agriculture which produces safe food, free of harmful additives. Farmers, chefs, and food activists keep the movement alive, but it is up to the community to make it thrive and create a sustainable food system for future generations.
Tuscaloosa is fortunate enough to provide the community access to fresh local food through farmers markets and community-supported agriculture programs. The Tuscaloosa River Market has been operating since 2012. Every Tuesday and Saturday from 7:00 a.m. till noon, community members can peruse over local produce, meats, eggs, seafood, and even baked goods. Homegrown Alabama is a student led organization fueling the farm-to-table movement by educating fellow students on the importance of buying and eating local. Every Thursday the group hosts the Homegrown Alabama Farmer’s Market from 3:00 p.m. until 6:00 p.m. located on the Canterbury Episcopal Chapel lawn.
Tuscaloosa restaurants are even serving up fresh local foods. Farm-to-fork, Chef Tres Jackson based his whole restaurant, Epiphany, around the farm-to-fork movement. Each week the menu is solely based off of what local farmers have to offer. His food philosophy is simply, serving only food made from local fresh ingredients. Manna Grocery and Chipotle Mexican Grill also provide menu items made with locally sourced ingredients.
Community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs allow consumers to purchase local produce for the whole year or a portion of the year. Grow Alabama is a family alliance serving as advocates for rural farmers in the state of Alabama. They offer a fresh supply of fruits and vegetables delivered to your door weekly. Snow Bend’s Farm offers a CSA program delivering local produce to a designated pick-up location in Tuscaloosa and Birmingham.
The opportunities to support the farm-to-table movement are available and the time to start is now. The future of food is in our hands, not the farmers.
From the words of Michael Pollen, “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”

Cindy Huggins, RDN, LD is a registered dietitian and local “foodie.” Follow her on twitter @DietitianCindy


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