Culture Shock: leaving the farm for the city

When I left NYC at the end of July I was ready for a huge shift in lifestyle.  Leaving the city for the farm was easy.  Four months later, as the farming season crept to an end in late November, as nightly frosts became more regular, I wasn’t so sure I was ready for a shift back into society.  Now nearly one month removed from the farm I can say that I was correct to feel leery about leaving; experiencing culture shock in the exact town you spent the majority of your life is strange to say the least.

Don’t get me wrong; I love Buffalo, NY.  The city has a fighting spirit, a stunning resilience to nearly everything thrown its way, a never-gonna-give-up attitude and an absolute sense of admiration and pride amongst its residents and ex-pats.  It also has great food, beautiful first-class architecture and parkways, wonderful shops, numerous bar districts (open till 4am) and professional sports teams sure to keep you praying (and screaming, and hoping, and depressed, but believing), and that’s just the start of it.  Nevertheless, the culture shock is both real and unexpected.

Why is this happening?  Because suddenly I’ve gone from a part of the state both intimately connected to its food sources and intimately concerned with the increasingly mechanized and industrialized food system, to one that’s only just beginning this journey.  On the farm I was learning from everyone around me about what it’s like to live a more sustainable lifestyle; back home I feel like I’m preaching to the uninitiated.  It’s like attempting to convince a Miami Dolphins fan why they should really be rooting for the Buffalo Bills.  OK, perhaps that’s the wrong analogy, or at least not quite right.  It’s more like attempting to explain to a roomful of children about how everything they read in their history book last year is not quite right.  It’s attempting to radically shift the knowledge we rest on as a society — as food consumers, as eaters and grocery shoppers and weight conscience, on-the-go, paradoxically frugal while indebted Americans — to an entirely new paradigm.  I feel like a preacher trying out a new religion on my congregation (and they don’t quite seem to be accepting it).

It all makes sense.  No one has time to cook anymore.  McDonald’s is cheap and easy and hell, you don’t even have to get out of your car!  You can even microwave an organic meal now and as long as it has a few grams a fiber we’re convinced it’s good for us.  I can eat a bowl of lucky charms with low-fat milk and be supplied with well over 15 vitamins and minerals without even wrecking my figure!  The problem here is that ALL of this is backwards.

Eating cereal is NOT the same as eating kale, it’s just not.

We can’t manufacture and reassemble nutrition in a box.  Our bodies aren’t designed to eat this way and it’s blatantly obvious if we open our eyes to the obesity epidemic, the health catastrophe we have on our hands.  When 1 in 3 children will develop diabetes over their lifetime, in effect cutting 10-15 years off their life, it should be a glaring red flag signaling the need for a massive overhaul in the way that we eat and think about food.  Tinkering the ingredients in the processed food we eat is NOT what I mean when I say massive overhaul.

Feel like you want to learn more?  I would suggest you begin by watching Food Inc., or any other documentary about the increasingly industrialized food system in the USA (check out my blog about Reading/Watching recommendations for a number of good titles).  Next, or if you love to read, I would suggest a true first step would be to read anything by Michael Pollan.  He writes incredibly accessible books about food, what’s for dinner, and how we became so disconnected from what we eat and how we should eat it.  If you live in Buffalo, check out some of these great organizations working simultaneously to green Buffalo; create food security and sustainable neighborhood development; and reconnect people with local sources of fresh and healthy food:

Buffalo Growing

Urban Roots

Green Renaissance of Western New York

Edible Buffalo

Grassroots Gardens of Buffalo

Massachusetts Avenue Project

Slow Food USA

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