As I walk past aisle after aisle of the cold section in my local supermarket, checking the different cuts, parts and fat percentage in the minced meat, I thought about that time when I visited my friend in his village, east of my homeland in Malaysia. Scanning through fleshy, pink fresh meat, organic and non-organic, which cost just a small fraction of my weekly grocery bill, I remember the chicken coops at the back of his house. My friends and I have been invited to stay for dinner, savoring local indigenous cooking alongside my host’s family members. As I reached out to take some chicken stew, I noticed one thing that would continue to remind me of how fortunate I am. For the group of 10, we had only one chicken to share amongst us. Nothing was wasted. Every part including the head, feet and innards were in the dish. The chicken was small and wasn’t as fleshy as factory raised chickens. To ensure that everyone would have a piece, the cook had chopped it into small thumb sized portions. I took a piece and tried to scrape as much meat as I could of it, but there wasn’t much. I deliberated if I should take more than my share. I decided to eat more rice to fill me up instead. As I find out later, meats are reserved for special occasions.
Prior to my trip to the villages, I have been a city person all my life. Being middle class, I never once wondered if I would have my next meal. Now in the US, even as a student I could afford my groceries because of the low cost. The supermarket fridges are always well stocked and during festive periods, there would be even more discounts. Buying more is actually cheaper! It came to the point where food started to rot before I could use them up. Because they are incredibly affordable, I have been more picky about my food quality. Any brown spots or holes meant that it could be tossed out. “It is only a few cents, what’s the big deal?” I would rationalize. Three out of the ten tomatoes were turning mushy; “well at least I got to use the other seven”. I contend that I had enough stress in my life than to worry about a few pieces of vegetables in my fridge.
Food and groceries came easy. It was cheap, good quality and I didn’t have to travel far to get them. Because they came in neatly sealed packages in an elevated aisle of a comfortable, well lit store, it didn’t matter all that much if I threw some away. Living in a city, I don’t normally see nor do I get the chance to plant my own food. I didn’t need to and it was way easier to buy them.
Around that time, the organic movement had grown stronger in my city. I was fairly interested in the concept of going back to nature, being environmentally conscious, having less to zero waste and whole consciousness trend my generation was in. Learning that there was a theologian turned farmer within 2 hours of my home, I decided to see for myself what having a farm meant. Aptly named the Lord’s Farm it was an all natural farm that relied on organic compost. Mr Jacob also had a cow which provides natural fertilizers for the plants. We had intended to also help out in the 65 thousand square foot farm so we got to work, pulling out weeds around the eggplant patches. Not barely an hour under the hot 95F sun, with our legs cramped and scratches on our hands, the three of us called it quits. The patch was only weeded half way. Later on over a vegetarian lunch, we heard from Jacob himself about the challenges and joys to growing his own food. He also supplied the produce to monthly subscribers, mostly middle to upper income households. I realized then how much effort it took to grow just one single vegetable. The ground needed to be tilled, seeds planted, each day it had to be watered and constantly weeded. If the sun is too strong or the rain pours down a little too much, the harvest is devastated. The crops would either turn out small or affected by pests. If one decides to go organic, there is the extra work of getting enough scraps to make compost and finding ways to avoid using chemicals to ward off bugs.
These two incidents taught me some important life lessons. That while food is easily available, it doesn’t mean it came without any cost to others. It takes a lot for the farmer to grow the food and while it is not visible to me, for the soil and sun to work its power through to give me that piece of carrot in my salad. That even if I only pay 3 dollars for an 8 pack of wings, someone out there could be giving more out of his or her pocket for a small part of that meat because it costs more for the individual. Because there are no factories to mass produce them in the rural parts of the country. I hope these experiences provide a different perspective for others who read my story.