|Fri, Sep 19, 2014 05:52 AM
|Issue of September 17, 2014
May 07, 2014 | 12:43 PM
We all have breakfast rituals we have developed through the years. There is usually not much variation in what we eat or do. I suppose this is a result of the sleepy stupor in the early hours of the day.
This morning, as I sat down with my paper and normal breakfast fare, it all looked and felt differently. We had spent the past two days at the Institute of Civic Engagement at Ivy Tech Community College in Bloomington. For the last 11 years, they have had a conference in my late husband's honor called the O'Bannon Institute of Community Service. I am always in awe of the speakers and panelists they recruit to discuss issues and programs of current importance.
We have heard from the likes of Tom Brokaw, former First Lady Laura Bush, columnist George Will and Arianna Huffington. The topics have run the gamut of concerns from education to freedom of expression. This year's topic was food, and the main speaker was Gen. Colin Powell.
You may be asking how a four-star general who served as Secretary of State would fit in with the topic of the day.
All the talk at the institute was about the centrality of food in our lives. It builds and controls our minds, bodies and spirits. We, who have always had food available, take it for granted and sometimes stress about our lack of self-control in consuming too much. But 15.5 percent of Indiana's residents worry about "food insecurity." Their households eat less, do not eat nutritious meals or go hungry because there is not enough money to buy food.
The Indianapolis Star reported that Indianapolis ranks dead last among all large U.S. cities in the ability of their residents to access healthy food. They have the lowest percentage of people who can walk to a grocery store within five minutes. Such places are labeled "food deserts." I am afraid we would find a number of these "food deserts" in the small towns of our county.
Harrison County's own Kent Yeager participated in a panel about "The Politics of Food." He served as the former executive director of the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture Farm Service Agency; he is now Sen. Joe Donnelly's Southeast Indiana regional director and agriculture liaison. His group voiced a strong consensus that we have the capacity to produce enough food to feed everyone; we just waver on our will to get it distributed. It is a moral issue, a medical issue, a security issue and an economic issue.
Another panel addressed what most of the conference concluded: There is a need and an opportunity to "Do Something Personally, Do Something Locally."
And here is where a military hero and diplomat like Gen. Colin Powell fits in. His message was a mirror of his life and his beliefs. He spoke of the need for all to become involved in their community. He said of life that "it's about how we touch and are touched by the people we meet. It's all about the people."
It was easy for me to see how Gen. Powell rose in the ranks as he did; he was warm, friendly, humble and knowledgeable. At dinner, I spoke with him about my upcoming trip to the Baltic States, Russia and Moldova, amidst the military and political turmoil there. He spoke of human commitment, community needs, conditions and cultural practices. Russia has always needed the food-growing power of the Ukraine and their warm-water port for shipping. I felt better about our world after hearing him say there is hope when people work together.
During the institute, there was no talk of grand plans to transform our cycle of planting, tending, harvesting and distributing food. Instead, they shared their knowledge about food banks, community gardens, education for healthy consumption and food co-ops. We discussed genetically engineered food and organic food. We talked about growing locally and big corporate international farming. It is not an either or situation nor is there only one right way. It will take a great array of people and a myriad of actions to solve this problem. And the glory of addressing the whole issue of "how to feed us all" is that it takes us all. In working together, we will feel a part of life in a renewed and vigorous way.
Years ago, an economically and socially stressed part of Los Angeles, called Watts, had a serious riot. During these hours of turmoil, buildings, cars and residences were destroyed. I pondered how people could set ablaze the grocery stores, homes and streets where they lived. I concluded that they did not feel a sense of ownership in their neighborhood, and, in their frustration, they burned it down.
Sometime later, I spoke at the National Association of Community Gardens annual convention, and I told this story. After the talk, a woman commented, "Do you know what they did not harm during the riots? They did not destroy their community gardens or the churches where they worshiped together."
It is in the doing of something positive together that we become a community, and we know there is no limit to what we can do when we do it together.