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Edible Ethos


An exploration of the sociocultural phenomena surrounding the Athens food system

Mayor Bernie: What are we messing with?

The city of Athens will soon be implementing Mayor Bernies 60 Mile Food Law. In just a few weeks, all food purchased and consumed in Athens must originate from within 60 miles of City Hall. We, the Naughty Otters, are one of six elite engineering teams tasked with analyzing the laws possible effects on our community. We feel that the diversity of our population needs to be explored more deeply before any well meaning but poorly thought out programs have disastrous effects on community subgroups whose cultural needs were not explicitly considered. We launched an investigation into the complex sociocultural system in our city. Each member of our team went out into the subcommunities that we are connected with to find what customs, attitudes, and needs characterized those groups. After conducting interviews with local Athenians, we brought our findings together to create a picture of the diverse ways that our society cooks and eats, as well as accounts of what food is to them personally. We present this discussion in four parts, representing four areas of concern in our community: Socioeconomic Status, Health, Ethics, and Religion.

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Michael Brewer compares and contrasts the findings from interviews with three people of different socioeconomic status. [CASES] TERESA is a MexicanAmerican wife and mother of three. She and her family live in a 2bedroom apartment in a low-income area. Feeding her family is a full-time job, and her entire day is spent in the kitchen. Im exhausted every day.

Lets talk social class.

A significant factor in determining the role that food plays in an individuals life is their socioeconomic status. This status describes not only the amount of money available for food, but also the culture that tends to form amongst communities of particular costs of his food. Teresa doesnt have enough money to eat out; all food is home cooked, which creates a fulltime job for her to feed her family. This, in turn, is a limiting factor on her career options, and therefore her upward mobility. In contrast, the only concerns that the Perkins family has about food is accidentally cooking or eating too much. In other words, Teresa is locked in the kitchen for no pay, and the Perkins family cooks as a luxury. In light of these vastly different lifestyles and attitudes, it is ironic that Ed describes food as a unifying commonality amongst all people. This is not to be critical of the Perkins family for enjoying the luxuries available to them (we all seem obscenely wealthy to somebody in the world). It is the broader system that has failed Teresa and her family. Being mindful of the role of the food system in these cultural and institutional barriers is critical as we move into uncharted territory under new legislation.

JARED is a workingclass son of Filipino immigrants. He is recently married with a one-year old child. Eating is an important social activity for him. I dont think we ever hang out without eating.

economic status. Through this lens, we can see similarities and distinctions between our interviewees. Ed and Jared, for example, are two men at different ends of the socioeconomic spectrum. Jared is poor and working class, and Ed is upper class. One striking difference between the two is the attitude they have about an ideal eating environment. Ed likes clean tables, comfort, and class. Jared, however, likes to go to restaurants that are dirty, serve primarily working class patrons, and serve greasy food. While both Jared and Teresa have a limited food budget and eat accordingly, Ed simply puts his food bill on a credit card. He seems to be quite detached from the financial

ED is a very wealthy business executive. He eats out regularly and feels that food is an important part of community. Hardest thing to find is good conversation.

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Georgia Hawkins wants to know how different people approach food from a health perspective. She brings us insight through these individuals. [CASES] BRIGID is an upper-class physician. She is married with two children. Her diet is very strict and controlled. Food is medicine.

MARIAN is a student at UGA. She studies exercise health science, and will soon begin her Ph.D. in the subject. Its not good to feed fast food to children because youre too lazy to cook.

What about health?

Food is the single most important factor influencing a persons health, so its natural that attitudes about food and well-being are deeply about this is that he has no idea why a range of colors in produce is a good thing. Diet-conscious consumers know that different fruit and vegetable colors signal the presence of different essential vitamins and minerals, but all Conner knows is that his mother would give him a colorful plate to eat when he was a child. This is a fascinating example of how culture can be an unconscious source of knowledge, sufficient to keep Conner nourished as he focuses his time and energy on his education.

CONNER is an undergraduate at UGA. He is on a meal plan. His diet is unrestricted, and he pays no attention to the nutritional content of his food. Ignorance is bliss.

intertwined. Conners main concern is convenience. He is on a meal plan so that he never has to worry about when food will be available. He doesnt care where his food comes

from, and he is happy not knowing. The only choices Conner makes about his food come from his upbringing. He is used to a plate centered around meat, with a variety of vegetables of different colors. The interesting thing

Brigid is similarly concerned with convenience. Like Conner, she knows in advance where every meal is coming

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from. She has a rigid routine of oatmeal for breakfast, Willys for lunch, and The Grit for dinner. Unlike Conner, however, she is acutely aware of the nutritional content of her diet. Her meals are perfectly crafted to give the exact ratios of macronutrients that she needs to suit her health goals. Her food choices are informed by her expertise as a physician. Marian also has a background in the health sciences, and also practices restrictive eating. She prepacks all of her meals and doesnt keep snack foods in the house. She avoids wheat, dairy, sugar, and unnecessary fats. Brigid and Marian both monitor their diets so strictly in order to be healthy and maintain an attractive physique. They both also exercise frequently to attain this goal. The difference between the two is that Brigid sees food as a means to an end, whereas Marian considers food consciousness a lifestyle. Marian also differs from Brigid in that she enjoys the social side of eating. We can also see the intersection of health and socioeconomic status emerge from these interviews. If Brigid has found that her perfect diet includes two restaurant meals every single day, what does that mean for somebody who is just as busy as Brigid, but doesnt have the disposable income to have their meals prepared for them?

Brigids health standards simply wouldnt be an option for such a person. Also, we can see attitudes of social privilege related to health in Marians interview: Fast food is not a substitute for a real meal unless you are travelling. It is not a meal parents should feed to children because they are too lazy to cook a meal. Being from a wealthy family, Marian seems unaware of the challenges faced by working class families, and she takes her easy access to a healthy diet for granted. In many families, both parents work, or a single parent works two jobs. In these situations, fast food might be the only option for feeding the children because of burdens on time and energy. Too lazy to cook a meal is not a good description of these people. Given these social inequities, keeping the Athens community healthy will be a much more complex task than simply growing healthy food. It would be easy to frame the issue as working against a culture of systemic inequality. However, as we have learned from Conners case, culture is not a barrier for us to overcome; it is another source of knowledge, and another medium for problem solving. It can work in concert with engineered solutions, and indeed it must if we want a solution to be lasting, effective, and sustainable.

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Stephen Ingraham explores the religious considerations of food by talking to UGA students from different faith traditions. [CASES] JACOB is a Catholic UGA student. He describes his religion as his moral compass. ANSLEY is also a UGA student. She is culturally Jewish. CAMERA is a Southern Baptist.

Food and Religion

Food serves spiritual and religious functions within different faith traditions, many of which are represented in the Athens community. Jacob, a second year student of the University of Georgia, is a practicing Catholic and describes religion as his moral compass. His Friday diet contains no red meat, as is the practice for most devout Catholics, so he eats fish once a week. Although this is only a small dietary shift, it is a symbolic representation of the important role that religion plays in his life. Ansley is also a student at UGA. She is Jewish culturally, but not religiously, and so she does not observe Kashrut. Because she cant often travel to be with her family, she eats traditional food on high holidays to stay symbolically connected. Some religions do not demand specific dietary practices, but still have a culture surrounding food. Camera, who was raised a Southern Baptist, says her religion does not dictate her diet. Sundays, however, are a day for her whole family to gather around the table after church. This habit remains a part of her lifestyle even while she is away at college. It is important to consider the spiritual significance that many local Athenians attach to their food. No policy should unreasonably interfere with the ways that individuals choose to make meaning in their daily lives.

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Jennie Mathis talked with her friends in the international community about the ethical side of food consumption: [CASES] YIMIKO is a geneticist who emigrated from Tokyo, Japan two years ago. She is a mother of two young children. Theres not enough diversity in vegetables [in the U.S.]; its so sad.

Ethical Eating
NATASHA is a recent med school graduate who is working on her residency. Her family emigrated from India when she was a young child. We never eat out at places that dont offer vegetarian meals. Our country is a melting pot, and Athens is no exception. The diversity of immigrants in the U.S. has made for equally diverse tastes; but what many might not consider is that food culture carries more with it than just different food selection and preparation techniques. It also encompasses attitudes and philosophies about food that develop over lifetimes and are passed on through GUI came to Athens from So Paulo, Brazil last year. He is currently unemployed and is hoping to enter a doctorate program in philosophy. Working the land and being in tune with nature builds character. generations. Because we are immersed in our own culture, we may never become consciously aware of what these internal ethics are. This is why weve turned to three immigrants from distinct backgrounds to share their thoughts on food and the American food system; not just for their valuable contributions to our culture, but also to help us look at our food with fresh eyes. She has, however, adapted to some new foods. Since moving to the US, Yimiko has become accustomed to cooking a wider Some of her sought after vegetables include lotus root, burdock, butterbur, devils tongue, and daikon radish. There isnt enough diversity in vegetables [in the U.S.], its so sad. I really do miss that. As far as her personal relationship with food, she says that she is able to find everything that she needs for preparing her meals except certain vegetables. In her words: Yimiko is a geneticist whose work involves genetically modified foods. She has conflicted feelings about what she does, and is undecided on whether GMOs are an appropriate use of modern technology.

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variety of dishes, such as Italian or Mexican, which she never did in Japan. When Yimiko came to the U.S. two years ago, she found that dairy and organic foods are cheaper here than they are in Japan, and so she has incorporated them into her diet.

interest in starting a farm. He feels that too many people do not produce but only consume: Working the land and being in tune with nature builds character. Farming should be about love, loving the land and the people youre providing for. In regards to ethical practices, he feels that prices are

In contrast, Natasha, whose family emigrated from India, feels that organic food is too expensive when you can buy non-organic at a better price: Its more practical to buy an item as non-organic than organic. Youll save money in the long run and it tastes the same. She recognizes that there is a lot that she isnt aware of about her food, and wants to keep it that way: What you dont know wont hurt you. Gui from Brazil says that our grocery stores have a good variety and that he is able to find everything that he needs. He lives on a tight budget, so he shops for items on sale and doesnt buy organic. He cherishes a diversity of food and does not like to buy the same items every time he goes to the food market. Guis relationship with his food has changed significantly since he came to the U.S.: I used to eat just to get fuel or energy, but now I really like to think about what Im eating, enjoy my meals, and eat slowly. He seldom eats out, and prefers to cook his meals. Gui has high ideals for the role food should play in peoples lives, and he has a passionate philosophy about what is right and wholesome. This has led him to an

probably not fair on the store shelves. Maybe everyone involved doesnt necessarily get a fair pay. What is the ultimate value? Maybe its profitable but its not the best. When asked about genetic modification of certain foods, he replied, Nah, I think nature is good enough and we shouldnt perfect things...I like heritage breeds, people should really consider those. Guis romantic idealism, Natashas functional pragmatism, and Yimikos ambivalence about the frontiers of our food system represent the differing expectations and attitudes about our food. Knowing how these attitudes match and mismatch with what we generally accept as the norm, its hard not to think about where the nebulous and everevolving American Dream comes into this conversation. Can Guis newfound appreciation of food be attributed to some new possibility he discovered here? Are Yimikos mixed feelings further complicated by having joining a massively productive food industry after leaving a country with a sickly, yet much labored over, agricultural system? And did Natashas thrifty qualities carry over from a country in which half the population lives on less than a $1.25 a day? Clearly there is a rich and nuanced source of knowledge and perspectives to unearth in our international community. We wonder if they will have a seat at Mayor Bernies table?

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Protesters and pundits will pick apart the details and implications of the 60-Mile Food Law for years to come. Surely many students of agriculture and economics at our university will write dissertations about this drastic and remarkable public policy. The Naughty Otters set out to join those voices in discussing the obvious talking points, but hoping to bring humanity into the debates that tend to focus on logistics and resource management. We feel that we have accomplished that. However, our most important discoveries were not simply of new variables and externalities to consider in the implementation of this new law. Throughout our brainstorms of possible futures under the 60-Mile law, we were continually surprised by how much had to learn about our existing food system. This law has been widely criticized as unrealistic and impractical; but given our findings, we wonder if our current arrangements are any more reasonable. Imagine what our everyday social order would sound like if it were codified into policy and sent down from the Mayors office One social class of our community shall gratuitously discard food, while another struggles to feed their children. The origins and content of food shall be such an inscrutable mystery that many of you will give up on even trying to figure out what youre putting into your bodies. Our first reactions to the law have been a sense of an outside force requiring us to conform to a burdensome mode of living. However, in our face-to-face conversations with members of our community, we have discovered that we all already conform to a system of food codes. These are the common laws of social norms, our personal food ethos, and the implicit 4,000-mile diet. The only difference between these laws and the 60-Mile Food Law is that were only having a conversation about the latter. Our existing policies are unspoken background constraints that emerge unquestioned, in such a way that impracticalities, outside impositions, and absurdities already demand our compliance without us being aware of it. To some, this structure is an invisible medium, no more noticeable than air. To others, it is dismissed as the natural order of things, which has no alternative. What we think this means is that whether or not the 60Mile law is a good idea, we need to take responsibility for every opportunity available to be active and thoughtful creators of our food society, rather than kicking up dust and waiting for it settle. Will we allow corporate food giants to take advantage of our needs by monopolizing our town, or would our community organize support for Gui to start his farm? And in this process of reshaping our local economy, who will ensure that the new system allocates tangible rewards to Teresa for her long and hard labor of love that is so integral to the functioning of our community? And can we make a food economy that not only supports Brigids high standards for health and nutrition, but also gives every citizen access to those same high standards? Will we continue to let the status quo shape itself behind the scenes?

~The Naughty Otters