Here's the Real Food Journey of our '14 Fall Semester Local Food Intern, Cristy Courtney: From a teenager to a college student, I ate how probably most do. There were lots of trips to fast food chains, and mindlessly handing over my money to these corporations. I had no idea where my food truly came from, or the processes from which it was produced—which now I am thinking I probably don’t want to know too much about the fast food processes anyways. In the past three years I have made great strides in my perception about food, real food. “Real Food is food which truly nourishes producers, consumers, communities and the earth. It is a food system--from seed to plate--that fundamentally respects human dignity and health, animal welfare, social justice and environmental sustainability” [REF] This is my real food journey.
Thinking back about what started my journey, I would honestly have to say it was my “freshman fifteen”, or the weight you seem to put on in college. My journey started out with wanting to get fit, and trim a little weight. After never really being concerned about the food I put into my body, eating healthy was quite the different concept for me. So, I got really into exercising, lifting weights, and healthy eating. This was the first time I made the connection that what I ate was either helping or hindering my success with exercising. Once I got the hang of healthy food paired with exercising, I made the connection with how great I felt. I looked better, felt better, and was actually living a new lifestyle. This new lifestyle was completely opposite of how I had ever lived, and one that I was extremely proud of.
In the meantime of this great lifestyle change, I was going to college. I had recently finished up my Associates degree in Flagstaff, AZ, which had an emphasis towards sustainable green building. I was very interested in sustainability, but at a novice level. The next part of my real food journey began when I started my Public Service and Public Policy in Sustainability Bachelor’s degree at Arizona State University. My first semester introduced me to the food system as a major concept of sustainability.
My eyes were opened to such a significant problem. So many natural (and limited) resources are going into the production, and distribution processes of food. Not to mention our fruits, vegetables, and meats are saturated with pesticides, herbicides, hormones, and antibiotics. Marketing and convenience lay in the hands of fast food chains, because they provide food that is cheap and convenient. I learned about GMOs vs. Organic. I mean this realization was heavy. I was putting this stuff into my body since I could eat solid food. How awful that I had no say or education about the food I was eating. However, it wasn’t until I watched this Ted Talk in one of my classes that I went to the next part of my real food journey.
The Ted Talk about being a weekday vegetarian gave me the challenge I needed to reduce my meat consumption by a lot. A majority of meat production is inhumane, bad for the environment, and can have negative effects on your health. However, it gave me the concept of eating meat as a luxury or treat. I didn’t have to completely cut it out, but I could do my part by reducing my consumption, and the support of the inhumane treatment of animals. It was in the same class that I touched on food systems, and the pairing of local and sustainability.
So, again there I was making another connection. I am eating healthier, and exercising, but now I need to eat real food. I need to be conscious of the food I am putting into my body, and by that I mean I need to know where it comes from and how it was produced. I did not want any of those pollutants in my body, especially because of someone else. It was in this time of my life I realized food was my passion. I loved so many things about food that I wanted to make it the emphasis in my sustainability and policy degree. I wanted to learn more about the food system, and how to make a change in the quality of life for humans, animals, and the environment.
It just so happened that I came across an internship at Local First Arizona in the local foods system’s department. “Local First Arizona empowers individuals to build the life they want in their local community. Together we can create a stronger economy, a more vibrant community, and better job opportunities for Arizonans” [REF]. Here was my chance to fulfill the missing piece of my journey and learn about being local, and not to mention an amazing opportunity to learn about local food systems. I was a very lucky candidate, and was offered the position.
Through my internship experience I was opened to the concept of local farms, local producers, and local consumers. I learned about the connections of seed to plate, the impact it made on society, and how it can lead to a healthy lifestyle. I realized that all along, I was searching for the meaning of real food, and through my internship I found it. It was the last connection I needed through my journey. Eating healthy with food that I knew where it came from and how it was produced meant eating locally! A local food system is by far the healthiest and sustainable you can get.
What real food means to me is a whole lifestyle: knowing where your food comes from, contributing to the success of local farmers who care about the food they produce, creating a local system that benefits a community, helping the environment, and making those choices as the consumer. My real food journey happened over a few years, but has shaped me into the person I am today. I love the lifestyle I live, and am an advocate for the desperate need of change in our food systems. I dream of a day where everyone has the ability to know where their food comes from, how their food was produced, know if it is free of pollutants and the inhumane treatment of animals. There is such an appreciative feeling of meeting the person who grows and/or producers your food. A teacher once said something to me that I will never forget, “not knowing where your food comes from is like accepting food from a stranger. Would you accept food from a stranger?”