This is the man who changed my life. This is the man that forced me to think about food in new ways. This is the man who uncovered a passion in me that I had never felt before. This passion for food, health, and sustainable living gave me confidence, energy, and purpose. It gave me an identity. A hobby. A lifestyle.
Growing up in rural South Dakota, I often struggle with the mainstream adoration of biotechnology. I once got in a little debate in class with a bunch of ag education majors who were mocking the organic market. And this is normal for me. So as I sat in the fourth row, seeing Eric Schlosser right there in front of me, speaking about all the things I am most passionate about, knowing many of my friends, peers, and community members were all there listening to it, made me more emotional than I have been since leaving Ireland.
As expected, the question and answer period brought much heated discussion. Every question began with, "I am a family farmer. I actually agree with some of the things you said, but..." And then it went downhill from there.
I noticed quickly during this time that the audience was segregated. Whenever one of these farmers said something, applause roared from the back of the theater. As these farmers were speaking, all the people around me in the front of the theater were rolling their eyes, shaking their heads, and muttering to their neighbors about how embarrassed they were by these members of the opposing viewpoints.
(On one hand, I agree. There were a few comments that just made me duck my head in shame, and they reminded me of why I want to move to Europe. On the other hand, I felt it disrespectful for us to want "the others" to keep their opinions to themselves.)
I used to think I was alone as a food activist in South Dakota, but the segregation of the audience at this event made me realize I'm not alone--I'm just socializing with the wrong people. :) It also makes me realize that there's a distinct segregation in the culture of this community, state, and perhaps the country as a whole. If you look at my school alone, we have the "farm kids" and the "not-farm kids." To say that we don't always see eye to eye would be an understatement. (One of my best friends comes from a farm....but that's an organic farm, so I don't think that counts).
One question/comment given tonight really caught my attention. A man introduced himself as a family farmer (naturally) and explained that--in this region--it's almost impossible to get ahold of seed that ISN'T genetically modified. The large corporations have taken over so much that even those that WANT to plant non-GMO crops are having a hard time making it happen.
So anyway, let's skip to the happy part. As if hearing him speak wasn't enough of a pleasure, he was also doing a book signing afterwards. I'm not going to lie--I was on the verge of tears. I held them back so people wouldn't think I was crazy. Although, if you saw how much I was shaking and fidgeting around, you'd probably think I was crazy anyway. :)
And then it happened. I stood in line for 10-15 minutes, and then there I was, at the front of the line, nervously pushing my copy of Fast Food Nation toward him.
I said to him, "Thank you so much for being here. Growing up around here, it's just....welll....you heard those attitudes out there, so you know what I'm dealing with. And it's just so....confining and frustrating, and it's just so refreshing to have someone like you come here, so I really appreciate it..thank you so much." And he said that that was great to hear. And then I added that I saw Food Inc. about a year and a half ago, and it just absolutely changed my life. He smiled and said thanks again, and my friend Alex, who was standing next to me, made some comment about how I was boosting his confidence or something? I don't remember. And Eric laughed and replied, "Yeah, I kind of needed that, thank you." :) My schoolmates bruised his ego.. :( And I fixed it. :D
And then I asked for a picture with him. He laughed and said, "Are you sure you won't regret this someday?" He has a fabulous sense of humor.
Now if only I could meet Michael Pollan...