Monday, April 9, 2012

Food: Where rural and urban America meet

the morning view at my kitchen window
Introduction: The original intent of this blog post was to address some of the difficulty that I have as a rural person communicating well with the urban person. The statement in a Chicago food blog "Industrial agriculture feels misunderstood" got me started. Writing the piece has caused me to see that while everything in this blog is true there is another interpretation. As a member of a very small (1-2%) of the population that the other 98% depend on for food, I am in an elite group of people. I, personally,  identify most easily with those on the subway/train, my everyday life experience however puts me in a position more like those who meet in rooms looking down on the city. It is a strange realization I am trying to put into words. That will have to wait for a later post. The breakfast conversation mentioned (the event is described in more detail at "A foodie breakfast in Chicago") has several participants thinking in new ways. I am one of those.Thank you for your time and deference. I hope you enjoy this modest essay.

The transition from rural America to urban America comes at me in a rush. In the 45 minutes it takes to drive from my garage to the airport, my relationship with the culture around me shifts. When the truck door closes at short term parking I know I am not in my native environment anymore. The movement of people, traffic, money, and stuff has just accelerated and I am slightly uncomfortable. I lock my door and clutch my carry on.

When the plane lands, this week it was in O' Hare International in Chicago, I realise I am working to blend into the crowd, trying to act like I belong here so I won't be noticed and spotted as an easy target. Why do I think I will be a target? Target of what?

Finding the train station in the basement of the airport is accomplished easily enough, just read the signs. Sooo many signs. Did I miss read them? Am I in the right spot? Then it happens. There is a turn stile and I need a ticket to go on. Where am I going? Which station do I want? How will I know when I get there? I have never done this before so it is unfamiliar. I have to ask for help. I don't blend in anymore.

Well, that went well. The lady was very pleasant and helpful. I have heard many stories about how rude the commuting public can be, but that wasn't my experience. Leaving the subway downtown, I am forced to ask for help again. Where am I? Where is my destination? This time the nice person speaks only broken English, so out comes the GPS phone and after a few minutes study and walking one block the wrong way, I am on my way. I am kind of proud of myself for figuring it out on my own. Then there is the entrance to the building.

I am easily lost in this world

Only a few people meet in rooms with this view
 Did you know you don't just walk into a building in the city and go to your meeting? There is security, turn stiles, passes, and guards. Not to mention elevators that go to even numbered floors and odd numbered flooors. Like a pro I get through these challenges trying to act intelligent as I switch elevators from the odd to the even floors. I am sooo not on the farm any more.

I pass the afternoon in meetings. That is a familiar situation for me. My butt has sat in a lot of meetings and I know this environement and am comfortable in it. This week's version is hosted by the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance (USFRA). USFRA is trying to train farmers, like myself, how to better communicate with consumers by first listening to what their concerns are before attempting to form an answer. The event of the trip is to be breakfast with Chicago food editors and bloggers the next day.

This is alot different than my view at breakfast
After a very fine evening meal at Harry Carry's, that I can afford on vacation or as a guest, and a good rest in a lovely Hotel 71 corner room with a view, I venture off to breakfast. I am again trying to act like I am comfortable here. Niether of these places would be within my budget experience and are outside my comfort zone. They are povided to me as a thank you for my time and effort on behalf of various organizations.
Breakfast is again way above my normal experience of a bowl of cereal and milk while checking all the stuff that happened on my Droid during the night. (Markets, weather, analysis, emails, voicemails, and the news.) Table clothes and omeletts just don't happen much at home on the farm. I wonder how many in the city live this way regularly? I am thinking not many. The thought makes me uncomfortable in a guilty kind of way.

The breakfast conversation covers many topics, as a conversation should, from family, to home, to occupation, and obviously food. Many questions are asked. "Where" and "why" dominate the sentence structures. I realise that I am much more comfortable with the "Why" questions than the "Where" questions. Many of the "Where" questions already seem to have answers that I am supposed to agree with.
The answers to the "why" questions seem to be less predetermined and therefore become less contentious. I find myself wanting to talk about "Why" in response to every "Where" question. That doesn"t seem to work well for obvious reasons.

a building I am comfortable in
 With the meeting over, I have four hours to spare before my flight. I head to the airport, again trying to blend in. I catch some lunch at what looks like a local "hole in the wall" sandwich shop. It is filled with the locals (construction workers, police, secretaries, students, shoppers, etc.). My kind of place. I fit in. At least mentally. And of course the food is good and less expensive. By now even the train seems less chanllenging. I swipe my prepaid ticket and stand on the landing with confidence. I look forward to landing at Columbus and shutting the door of my pickup behind me. My culture will shift back to normal with the slam of that familiar door.

Travel is a great way to open your eyes and expand your ideas of the world.

Thanks for your thoughts.