Food for Thought:
The Reading Together 2014 Blog
It wasn’t until I read Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer for the second time that I really grasped the enormity of Novella Carpenter’s drive to prove herself as a farmer, which, at times she says, felt like “the mission of an imbecile.”
It’s hard to imagine a more unconventional – or difficult - way of carving out an existence for oneself: a squatter on land in an urban neighborhood that initially doesn’t feel safe. But it turns out the garbage strewn lot next to her apartment and Oakland’s “down and out qualities” are just right for Carpenter and her boyfriend, Bill, to put down roots of all kinds.
The rollicking good ride we get to go on with Carpenter includes massive slug extermination in which the slimy, primitive creatures are ripped in two and then squished between boards (this is organic gardening, after all), prolifically pooping poultry, bees, pigs, rabbits, dumpster diving and scrounged stuff from street corners. Carpenter possesses a love of making something useful again, which she describes as “resurrecting the abandoned.” The folks we meet come to life on the page: Lana (“anal spelled backwards”), monks, men that live in wheelless parked cars. The farm changes the neighborhood and the author. Against odds and convention, Carpenter not only exists, but she thrives.
I can’t wait to meet her this week!
~ Donna McClurkan, Reading Together Steering Committee
We’ve just received a lovely note from Tracie McMillan about her recent visit to Kalamazoo. Although Reading Together 2014 continues until mid-April, we want to share her sentiments with the community now, since many are presumably still digesting (get it?) their reactions to her compelling book, The American Way of Eating.
In the meantime, we still have three weeks of programs and several related community events left before Novella Carpenter comes to town on April 15-16. Check out the Events links to the right and mark your calendars now. See you there!
Dear Karen, Ann, & the rest of the Reading Together/KPL Crew,
Thank you again for organizing such a wonderful kick-off to your Reading Together series—and for including me in it. I had such wonderful conversation with everyone—from the lively Q&A at the high school to lunch at the Tap Room with your partners; from the high school student presentations to the live chat with the Kalamazoo Gazette. I truly was honored & delighted to be a part of it, and I’ll stop in & say hi on my next visit to Kzoo!
Tracie McMillan at KPL
This spring we are inspired by two books that explore the journey of food from farm to table – whether that farm is a large operation fueled by the efforts of migrant workers or something that starts as simply as a personal devotion turning a nearby urban patch into a garden.
Novella Carpenter’s memoir Farm City shows how in small steps we can start something simple and transform it into something greater than ourselves. Her experience of growing beyond the garden to include raising animals on a small scale in an urban space is the inspiration behind upcoming programs such as Raising Animals for Food and The Farming Life. People’s Food Co-op will offer a Cooking Demonstration using fresh and local ingredients. Beyond Food for Thought will bring together a variety of people sharing how they turned small ideas gleaned here and there into life-changing actions; and we’ve also planned how-to’s on Container Gardening and a Farmers Market 101 where you can learn how to select produce and build relationships with local farmers.
As a journalist, Tracie McMillan goes undercover in The American Way of Eating to reveal the journey of food produced and distributed en masse until reaching its final destination on our plate. Her writing encouraged us to learn more about local stories and challenges of food and as a result, our community has come together in collaboration to present and offer to you The Farmworker Story as told by former farmworkers who advocate for safe and dignified working conditions. The Center for Health Equity will open dialog about Food Security or Food Justice: Does it Really Matter? We also have a Midday Film Series of three food documentaries; and we look forward to sharing the Midwestern food experience with authors Peggy Wolff and Bonnie Jo Campbell.
In addition to a grand variety of “side” program selections to choose from, our plate would not be complete without the main dishes: the Reading Together Committee is proud to present to you About the Author programs, where you will be able to meet and hear firsthand the experiences from each of our featured authors Novella and Tracie.
Our Kalamazoo Community will undoubtedly have plenty of food for thought throughout this season, and we look forward to reading, learning, and sharing food ideas (and food!) with you!
~ Jessica L. Enget, Reading Together Steering Committee
Associate Librarian, Portage District Library
Interest is building in Reading Together especially for the first book, The American Way of Eating. Three times already this week as I was out and about, people have mentioned the book to me…. they are just reading it, their book group will be discussing it, they are looking forward to the author visits.
One book group I know of, discussed both titles this week. I hear there was good conversation and comments that food is a good theme for this year. They appreciated reading two related books.
My book group will talk about The American Way of Eating later this week over dinner at a local restaurant. Usually we meet in someone’s home, so this will be a treat. I’m sure it will be good conversation over good food. We’ll talk about Farm City in March.
The American Way of Eating
One of the (perhaps obvious) reasons these particular books were selected for Reading Together this year is because Kalamazoo is such a vibrant food community. Several local agencies have provided input in planning our March/April programs and/or will be participating in those programs. There is a third way to become involved: To help spread the word about the good and important work these and other organizations are doing, we will have, at every scheduled Reading Together event, a one-stop display where attendees can pick up literature about local food-related programs, events, and/or services. We call this our Partners Potluck.
Any organizations interested in participating in the Partners Potluck can go to the contact link found on the right margin to express interest and obtain more information.
At the very beginning of her book The American Way of Eating, Tracie McMillan writes, “Like all myths, the idea that only the affluent and educated care about their meals has spread not because it is true, but because parts of it are. Healthier food is more expensive; that much is true. So is the fact that it can be hard to find in poor neighborhoods. And yet it requires an impossible leap of logic to conclude from these facts that only the rich care about their meals” (2). McMillan explains that she had bought into this myth—that home-cooked, healthy, fresh food was “for the rich”—until, as a writer “covering the poverty beat” for a small magazine, she profiled a young New York girl who was attending a cooking class (3). For the first time, McMillan began to ask herself why it was easier and cheaper to eat junk food than it was to eat healthy food. She asked herself, “Why is it so difficult to eat well?” (9), and that question launched her investigation of the American food system and remains at the heart of her book.
On Tuesday, October 8, Kalamazoo College’s Mary Jane Underwood Center for Civic Engagement and Farms to K will present a public screening of the recently-released documentary, A Place at the Table, that takes up McMillan’s question and asks us to consider why 50 million Americans—1 in 4 children—don’t know where their next meal is coming from, let alone have the resources to ensure that that meal contains healthy, fresh, food. The film, by the producers of Food, Inc., traces the story of three food insecure Americans “who maintain their dignity even as they struggle just to eat” (Place at the Table). Following the screening, there will be a discussion of hunger in Kalamazoo, led by Phyllis Hepp, of Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes, and Dayon Woodford, a K College student working on a senior thesis on food access in Kalamazoo.
This screening of A Place at the Table is open to the public and takes place from 7 pm - 9 pm Tuesday, October 8 in the Recital Hall of the Fine Arts Building on the campus of Kalamazoo College.
~ Dr. Amelia Katanski, Kalamazoo College
Reading Together Steering Committee
A Place at the Table