The Planted Row: Food is who we are

Stan Wise
Farm Forum Editor

Autumn is my favorite time of year. In my opinion, no other season comes close.

For one thing, fall is harvest time. As my grandfather used to say, “That’s when the money starts flowing back in.”

But that’s not the only great thing about fall. There’s jacket weather, beautiful colors on the trees and football games watched under blankets.

My favorite things about fall are the foods — apple cider, apple pie, pecan pie, hearty soups, hot chocolate in the evenings, all the Thanksgiving classics and, of course, pumpkin-flavored everything.

For whatever reason, though, whenever I’m trying to shed a few pounds, I’m usually doing it in the latter part of the year. When I lamented to my wife last week that I’d be missing most of my favorite foods this year, she said that no matter what time of year I was dieting, I’d be missing some great seasonal foods.

“Our culture,” she said, “is a food culture.”

I thought to myself, “Yes, it is. Thank goodness.”

I can’t help but think how fortunate most of our society is to have access to a steady supply of food and food ingredients.

Of course, some parts of our country are “food deserts” — areas where it’s difficult to access fresh, affordable food — and a little more than 11 percent of U.S. households experience food insecurity, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. For the most part, however, our nation has an access to food that many other countries would envy.

We have such an abundance of food that a large portion of the national conversation consists of people who are arguing about what’s responsible and healthy to eat instead of arguing about finding something to eat.

So in this land of plenty, it is no wonder that we have not one but many different thriving food cultures reflecting regional traditions, ethnic groups and national origins. Like any kind of culture, the food we eat and prepare is an expression of who we are, where we came from and what we value.

The meat-and-potatoes fare of Midwestern farm country says a lot about the lives of the people who work and live there.

The pasta dishes that my wife makes reflect the lives of her Italian ancestors.

If we want to experience Asian, Mexican, or even Somali cultures, we have restaurants we can visit right here in Aberdeen. Many towns and families in the region work to keep German food traditions alive.

And there are so many other foods to experience just by traveling across our country. I had to go to Miami to learn how fantastic Greek and Cuban food can be. I had to move from Mississippi to Alaska to discover that I enjoy sushi and absolutely crave Indian and Middle Eastern food. If I had not married a woman from New York, I would never have discovered the wonder that is apple cider donuts, which can be purchased at orchards across the Northeast in the fall.

The joy that people take in sampling and adding to this huge variety of food supports an almost inconceivably massive agricultural, processing, distribution and retail infrastructure. It employs millions of people, supports all of our farms and keeps us fed.

This infrastructure supports towns and livelihoods here on the Northern Plains the same as it does all across the country.

So, yes, our culture is a food culture, and despite the occasionally necessary diet, I wouldn’t have it any other way.