2ECOND THOUGHT A publication of the North Dakota Humanities Council
[the KEY INGREDIENTS issue]
Photo by Joleyn Larson, Mandan, ND
Dinner Table Conversation
note from the executive director Lately Americans are pretty angry about pretty much everything, and food is no exception. Recently there has been outrage over $16 muffins served at a Justice Department Conference. (Taxpayers will be happy to note that a week after the muffin story went viral it was revealed the $16 price tag was for the cost of a full continental breakfast, not a single muffin.) Texas decided to stop the decades-long tradition of serving last meals to death row inmates after public outrage boiled over when convicted killer Lawrence Russell Brewer ordered more food than a family of four could eat in a week and then refused to eat any of it before his scheduled execution. (In response, Brian Price a longtime prison cook, and former prisoner, offered to donate last meals to death row inmates, but the Texas Department of Criminal Justice declined his offer because, “It’s not the cost but rather the concept we’re moving away from.”) A group of parents in California are suing McDonalds to stop the practice of marketing nutritionally deficient food with toys, and the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted on legislation that bans the practice with meals that don’t meet minimum nutritional standards. (The fast-food chain responded by calling the ban “unrealistic” because children will rarely eat a nutritionally balanced meal.) To top it all off, Oxfam reports that the average price of staple foods around the world will more than double in the next 20 years and warns of an “era of permanent food crisis, which is likely to be accompanied by political unrest.” Economically, politically, and ethically food matters, and there are important conversations we need to be having around issues of access, sustainability, and health. In the examples listed above food issues are driving people apart. Luckily there is a community of folks locally who are taking the opportunity to let food bring them together. Community-supported agriculture, farmers markets, and co-ops are starting to build momentum and direct communitywide conversations around the way we eat. They are all part of a larger “slow food” movement that seeks “to counter the rise of fast food and fast life, the disappearance of local food traditions and people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes and how our food choices affect the rest of the world.” At the core of this movement is the desire to use the power of food to create active and engaged communities, the substance of democratic society. This is literally an opportunity to break bread together and start talking about the things that matter the most to us individually and as a collective. And if our mouths are full now and again and we have to keep them shut long enough, we might just find out that listening to other people’s values and ideas isn’t such a hard thing to swallow. Perhaps there is more room at the table than we realized.
Brenna Daugherty Gerhardt Executive Director
features [contents] KEY INGREDIENTS
2 Fathers, Sons, and North Dakota: Cultivating the Ties That Bind on the Agrarian Landscape By Ryan M. Taylor
8 Eating with Eyes on the Community By Dean Hulse
14 The Story of Food in America
By Dakota Goodhouse
16 Key Ingredients Community Pages
By Jesse Veeder Scofield
NOTEWORTHY 28 “Hard Work and Much Fun”: A North Dakota State of Happiness
By Deborah Dragseth and Stacy A. Cordery
By Will Beachey
PLAIN THINKING 36 The Right to Food
By Tayo “Jay” Basquiat
ON SECOND THOUGHT is published by the North Dakota Humanities Council. Brenna Daugherty Gerhardt, Editor Jan Daley Jury, Line Editor Dakota Goodhouse, Researcher To subscribe please contact us: North Dakota Humanities Council 418 E. Broadway, Suite 8 Bismarck, ND 58501 800-338-6543 firstname.lastname@example.org
Cover photos by Sarah Smith Warren, www.sarahsmithwarren.com
Fathers, Sons, and North Dakota: Cultivating the Ties That Bind on the Agrarian Landscape By Ryan M. Taylor
One reality I’ve resigned myself to is that I’ll never get every book read that ought to be read. That’s one reason I appreciate book recommendations to help me sift through all that might interest me. Several years ago, a friend recommended Iron John by poet Robert Bly to me. It’s subtitled “A book about men,” and even though I wasn’t a father at the time I read it, I was a devoted son. Now that I am a father of two sons and a daughter, but have lost my own father to age and Parkinson’s, I find myself thinking often of the themes I discovered in Iron John. I read a little of everything, and although poetry and mythology aren’t regular residents of my literary nightstand, I’m not afraid of them either. I hadn’t had a lot of exposure to Robert Bly, and, if you Google him, you’ll find a range of opinions on him and his work, but I thank this poet laureate of Minnesota for getting me to think about my father, fatherhood, and male mentoring in a new light.
Marshall “Bud” Taylor on a quarter horse stud named Squab at the Taylor Ranch, Towner, N.D., 1958
Left: Bud and Ryan Taylor, 1977 (photo by Corinne Dokken Frey) Middle: Bud and Ryan Taylor with a tough little ranch pony named Geronimo, 1974 (photo by Elizabeth Taylor) Right: Bud Taylor on his John Deere 60 and Ryan Taylor on the ground on the Taylor Ranch hay meadow, 1992 (photo by Elizabeth Taylor)
It’s an interesting world we live in where a Harvard-educated poet can speak so directly to a North Dakota cattle rancher. We are all connected, though, no matter how we try to divide ourselves, so it shouldn’t surprise me. “Mitakuye Oyasin,” or “All my relations,” as my Lakota friends would say. Bly uses the story of Iron John, a Grimm fairy tale, to voice some opinions on the way male relationships have changed as we’ve moved from an agrarian- and craft-based culture to an industrial age. It’s rare now for fathers and sons to work alongside each other. More often, a father is someone who leaves early in the morning to go and ply his trade and comes home at night for a few hours, or less, of family time. Although North Dakota, by definition, is considered an urban state because the majority of our people live in incorporated cities and towns, most of us still consider it rural and agrarian. As a rancher’s boy, I’m a bit of an anomaly to the typical industrial age son, and for that I am grateful. Some of my earliest memories are being outside on the ranch with Dad— feeding cattle, making hay, riding horse, doing chores of one kind or another. Now that Dad is gone, I feel like the luckiest son in the world to have had that “quantity time” with him. Bly says the father as a living force in the home disappeared when the demands of industry sent him away to work in the factories. The living father force, however, was always present on our ranch. Bly would probably say our ranching relationship was a little like tribal culture. “Fathers and sons in tribal cultures live in an amused tolerance of each other. The son has a lot to learn, and so the father and son spend hours trying and failing together to make arrowheads or to repair a spear or track a clever animal. When a father and son do spend long hours together, which some fathers and 4
...it’s about time and lots of it. If time is limited, don’t shortchange the little there is. sons still do, we could say that a substance almost like food passes from the older body to the younger.” I certainly received that food, and the teaching, as Dad and I tried and failed in amused tolerance of each other while working cattle and completing all the regular, seasonal tasks on a ranch. Conversely, Bly says, “When a father, absent during the day, returns home at six, his children receive only his temperament, and not his teaching.” The act of teaching, he says, sweetens our sometimes harsh and human temperaments. I’ve lost track of all the things my father taught me. Some of the lessons are pretty common—how to shut a gate with a double half hitch or tie a horse to the hitching rail with a bowline knot, how to prime the leathers of a well cylinder beneath a windmill, how to judge when the hay is ready to be stacked or baled. I continue to do these common things so often; they are constant reminders of him that have helped me handle the grief of his loss. I always knew that my relationship with Dad was special, and different, from many of my friends whose fathers had to leave for work every morning. But Dad was different, too, because he was 48 years old when I was born so it was a little like being raised by a grandfather. While my friends’ fathers were baby boomers, my father was a World War II veteran of the South Pacific. He was a boy who grew up taking on odd jobs to help his family through the Great Depression. Those circumstances shaped him, and, in turn, helped to shape me. One circumstance that shaped Dad was that he was raised without a father. When Dad was just a year and a half old, his father died from smallpox—he was unvaccinated. What’s more, in the short span of time between 1921 and 1923, his grandfather also died suddenly from a rupture and his young uncle was killed when he was rammed by a grown steer. That meant every man on the ranch had been tragically taken within 16 months time, leaving two widows to care for two small boys and a soon-to-be-born baby girl. So my father never knew a father, or had the male presence of his uncle or grandfather in the immediate vicinity. But he did have his father’s cousin from Montana named Gordon and he would become the father figure in Dad’s life. I don’t want to overstate the whole male mentoring influence on rearing boys because Dad, one of the truly wonderful people in this world, was first and foremost a product of his mother and grandmother’s care and nurturing.
I always described him as a gentleman who was a gentle man, who was caring and thoughtful, who put stock in relationships and knew the importance of helping a neighbor. Those traits were surely influenced by the strong, independent women who raised him and brought the young family through the 1930s. But, there was a need for a man in the young boy’s life, and that’s where his elder cousin came in. Gordon was a cowboy’s cowboy who ranched in the rugged breaks of the Missouri River near Culbertson, Montana. He grazed several hundred horses in the area and made his living trading horses at a time when horses were still a valuable tool on the northern plains.
My male mentoring and initiation with Dad was more of a long and continual process. It was the hundreds of summer sausage sandwiches shared in the hayfield at lunch time. It was the conversations that I took part in, or just listened to, as Dad visited and shared stories with hired help and family friends who helped us put up the hay on our meadow.
When Dad was a young boy he would get on the train and spend entire summers on Gordon’s horse ranch, and I think that was his “Iron John” time when he left his mother and discovered the metaphorical wild man in the forest.
It was the visits and the silent time together while we dug postholes and built fence, or tamped in a railroad tie for a corner post. He’d be teaching while we were working. This is how you run the fence stretcher, this is how you measure the distance between the top wire and the ground (it’s hip height on a tall Taylor), this is how you practice your stoicism when you rip your hand open on the barbed wire and watch the blood trickle onto the ground.
Gordon was plenty wild when it came to riding bucking horses and living in rough country, but pretty tame in social ways as Dad said he never saw his male mentor drink, smoke, or gamble.
We harnessed teams, saddled horses, and broke colts. We branded calves, doctored cattle, chased cows, and learned the temperament of animals and the proper temperament for people who work with them.
Bly speaks often of the importance of initiation in a boy’s development when he leaves his mother and his father to be with the wild man. For Dad, I believe he accomplished that when he was 14 years old and he helped Gordon chase 40 horses from Towner to Jamestown, North Dakota.
This all took time, and Robert Bly validated that time for me. There was no shortage of stories for me to share in the eulogy I delivered at Dad’s funeral because our time together allowed for the creation of so many. He had given me his time in abundance, and with that “substance almost like food passing from the older body to the younger,” I knew that I had been well fed.
It was 1935 and the overland horse chase took several days of camping and herding as one of the two rode horse and the other drove the 1927 Buick coupe with the camping gear. The food was pretty ordinary and Dad always remembered Gordon buying a pail of eggs at a farm along the way. When Dad asked how he was going to keep the eggs from rotting, Gordon built a fire and boiled the whole pail. Dad claimed he ate enough hard-boiled eggs for a lifetime on that trip! Dad spoke often of this grand boyhood adventure so I know it had a big impact on his development. He was just 14 but he was given a grown man’s responsibilities to help chase and sell those horses. Gordon bought
him his first hat, boots, and saddle. He made him a cowboy, and a man.
But ranches and farms are fewer on our landscape and there are fewer families with careers that allow them to work side by side. Yet, I believe fathers and sons, male mentors and boys, can make the most of the time we are given. Society will reap the benefit of young men with a sense of direction and the grounding of their fathers and close male role models, rather than the skewed male icons of popular culture. I take a couple of clear messages from Iron John as I ponder good fatherhood, and it matters not if you work
from a ranch, an office or a factory. First, it’s about time and lots of it. If time is limited, don’t shortchange the little there is. I think the time ought to be invested in three areas—the outdoors, working together, and teaching. In the fairy tale, I believe Iron John is found in the forest, in the outdoors, for a reason. As we continue to move ourselves indoors, it’s more and more important for all of us, but especially fathers and sons and male mentors, to get outdoors. The forest, the prairie, the green and living spaces are fertile ground for relationship building and initiation. North Dakota has a lot to offer for outdoor experiences. Take advantage of it—camp, hunt, fish, hike, bike, learn our history, feel the sun, wind, rain or snow together.
We should be on the lookout for tasks and jobs where we can have long hours of “amused tolerance of each other.” I think it’s nice to have something to point to at the end of the effort. Stand back and admire the yard fence, listen to the rebuilt motor, appreciate the woodcraft you completed together. Finally, teaching. It’s easy to be harsh or impatient after a long and stressful day. The act of teaching makes us think about the words we say, and reminds us that there is something to learn, that skills are not automatic but take some coaching from adults who are forced to keep their tempers in check. We’re not teaching calculus here. We’re showing how to tie a knot, build a campfire, or explain some of the tasks we do when we are away at work. Take the time to be a dad today, take the time to mentor a boy you know. Bly made me think and gave me some of the key ingredients in his book. It made me appreciate all that I have been given, and inspires me to be more giving. All from a poet writing about a fairy tale.
Ryan Taylor is a fourth-generation cattle rancher, author of the syndicated column, Cowboy Logic, and a North Dakota state senator representing District 7. He ranches with his wife Nikki and three young children near Towner, North Dakota.
Ryan Taylor (photo courtesy of Bismarck Tribune, 40 Under 40 magazine supplement, 2003)
Working together is easier for me as a rancher, but we can find chores and tasks in other settings as well. It could be in the garage or the backyard, or at the workbench.
Photos by Sarah Smith Warren, www.sarahsmithwarren.com
Eating with Eyes on the Community by Dean Hulse
I recently came across a note I’d dashed off some time ago that concerned an advertisement (circa 1922), which I’d seen in my hometown newspaper. If memory serves, I’d been looking through newspaper archives while doing research on a topic unrelated to the ad’s subject, but its copy nonetheless caught my attention. The ad read, “Butter and Eggs, same as Cash.” My maternal great-grandmother and my grandmother both bartered butter and eggs (and cream) for staples, probably with the same grocer who ran that ad in my hometown newspaper. According to family legend, my maternal great-great-grandmother was a “fancy cook” in England before she and my great-great-grandfather emigrated first to Canada and then to Richburg Township in North Dakota’s Bottineau County. Mom was an exceptional cook, too, so perhaps it’s genetic. Even as a child I experimented in the kitchen, and Mom and Dad were generous with what they allowed me to make. Like many farm families of that era, our “fruit room” resembled a grocery store—with shelves full of jams, jellies, tomato sauce, green beans, relishes, and pickles (beet, cucumber, corn, cauliflower). Also, canned stew meat and meatballs, with congealed morsels glistening like jewels inside the jars. Without asking, I could go down to the basement and retrieve a package of frozen hamburger, wrapped in white freezer paper carrying the “Not for Sale” label our local butcher had affixed. The beef came from our own steers. My first food triumph was sizzling as Dad arrived for dinner: hamburgers, releasing the aroma of nearly every dried herb and spice Mom had in her cabinet. A predominance of chili pepper, onion salt, and garlic powder gave these burgers a piquancy that perfectly complemented a melting slab of Colby cheese. Of course, I had a few failures. A sodden tuna pizza comes to mind. A meal fit for our dog Stub, who required some persuasion. “You eat that,” I barked. I’ll end the tales of my adolescent cooking escapades here.
Beside my note containing the “Butter and Eggs” ad copy, I’d scribbled my reaction: “Oh really? Try making a cake out of cash.” I know about cake. Dad’s avocation was baking angel food cakes, each requiring fourteen egg whites, and many of which he gave as gifts. Butter and eggs, same as cash? I know bartering is a form of commerce, but during my life, I’ve witnessed this butter-and-eggs sentiment assume a more literal character. I don’t think it’s a stretch to claim that many who frequent supermarkets today behave as though their cash is the same as cabbage, one indistinguishable commodity exchanged for another. For many years, I was one of those shoppers. When my wife, Nicki, and I first moved to Fargo, I relished the fact that I could shop at grocery stores overflowing with exotic produce at 3 a.m. if I so chose. Like many Americans, I ate daily, and well, without knowing or caring a lick about the food on my plate—except how it looked and tasted, and perhaps how much it cost. For me, the convenience of that marvelous arrangement helped blunt some repulsive memories of growing up on a farm. Picking eggs as a child was a chore, especially when I’d encounter an unexpected visitor in the henhouse. I once discovered a large rat, sitting on its haunches, exposing an oozing ulcer on its underside. After retracing my steps, lickety-split and empty-handed, back to our house, Dad returned with me to the clucking chickens. That rat departed this world squirming on the end of Dad’s five-pronged pitchfork, creating a silhouette against the early morning sun. And so, I was OK buying anonymous eggs produced who knows where. But in my late twenties, my outlook began to change. I don’t think genetics was responsible. More likely, it was modeled behavior—that is, my having grown up with gardening parents and my having experienced truly fresh food. What manifested my latent craving for vineripened tomatoes? I can’t say. What satisfied it? Thick tomato slices still conveying the sun’s warmth, made even more perfect by salt, pepper, mayonnaise, and two slices of bread, substantial enough to absorb the free-flowing tomato juices without becoming soggy. A summertime sandwich to savor for only a few weeks, but to anticipate the rest of the time. At first, we rented garden plots from the Fargo Park District, and we drove to our garden with open buckets of water sloshing in our car’s trunk. Later, I bought a small trailer and adapted it so it could haul two fifty-five-gallon water barrels. One year, someone stole our entire crop of spaghetti squash. I pacified my anger by writing a letter to the editor of our local newspaper, in which I offered a recipe so that our thief could fully enjoy his booty (his—large footprints among our picked-clean squash vines). A day after the letter appeared, I got a call from a woman living in Casselton. She offered to share some of her spaghetti squash with me. Another woman from Moorhead did the same. We ended up with more spaghetti squash than we had growing in our garden. That series of incidents planted a seed that would sprout once we bought a home and had a garden of our own. Now, we didn’t start our backyard gardening with the altruistic notion of supplying our neighbors with produce. But on most years, there are only so many zucchini squash two people can eat. To our credit, we are diligent in checking our zucchini plants. We aim to pick the fruit when it’s six to eight inches long, and that’s what we share with neighbors. Those zucchini lurking at the very bottom of our plants, the ones stealthily growing to the size of small children’s legs, we toss into our compost pile. We also share tomatoes, eggplant, onions, spinach, chard—whatever we have in overabundance. Our neighbors have been joyfully generous with their in-kind reciprocations. One of our neighbors, an elderly Japanese widow, treats us to several meals reflecting her culture’s cuisine each year. Painstakingly garnished and with precisely cut vegetables, her dishes don’t disappoint in presentation, taste, or texture. I often daydream about her sticky rice. And the source of her homemade herb wine, which packs a punch more like a liqueur, grows right outside her 10
garage service door. This year she’s going to show us how to grow the herb and make the wine. Another neighbor is the patriarch of a family-owned package store and popular college bar. He repays with wine or beer, some of which comes to us with a “born-on” date that is either current or only a day or two old. A Montana native, he’s also shared cherries that grow near Flathead Lake.
Butter and eggs, same as cash? Sharing our garden’s bounty has taught us much about bargains, by which I mean the unspoken agreements that we’ve forged in our neighborhood. For the most part, these bargains have been organic, in that all of our contributions fit together harmoniously, as necessary parts of the whole. We feed each other, but we also nourish each other with meaningfulness that sustains our friendship. We’ve formed a network that pulls us tighter than could our geographic proximity alone. Our exchanges of fruits, veggies, and other goodies have created social capital, and I’d be hard-pressed to estimate its cash equivalent. While we’ve developed our gardening abilities, we’ve also assumed responsibility for carrying on family traditions, both mine and Nicki’s. One of mine is plum pudding, a Christmas custom dating back to my maternal great-great-grandmother, the “fancy” cook. Plum pudding is steamed and among
Photos by Sarah Smith Warren, www.sarahsmithwarren.com
Our neighbor to the south loves our rhubarb. And we love her rhubarb pie, made distinctive by the fresh orange zest she adds. I’ve been known to eat three pieces of this pie at one sitting. The neighbor whose backyard is full of fruit trees lets us pick his cherries, apricots, and apples until our hearts and our appetites are content. While it takes many hours of picking and pitting, with me picking and Nicki pitting (the really hard job), our collaboration has resulted in a cherry jam that I have thought about in the middle of the night. We’ve dehydrated the apricots for a tart addition to our oatmeal. And while I can count on one hand the number of pies I’ve baked, I did a pretty good job of creating a three-inch-high apple pie for one of Nicki’s birthdays.
its ingredients are breadcrumbs, chopped walnuts, dried cherries, diced apple, and suet—beef fat. We’re able to get our suet from the same person who supplies us with our organically certified grass-fed beef. He doesn’t sell the suet, but the last time I asked, he saved some and gave it to us. No charge, which is mighty neighborly. Representing Nicki’s side of the family, we’re now the makers of lefse, horseradish (which we grow), and sauerkraut. Because we don’t want to take up the garden space required to grow enough cabbage for our kraut, I needed to find a supply, so I visited a local farmers’ market. Each August, I buy one hundred pounds of cabbage from the same farm marketer. This year, I’ll have bought cabbage from him for twenty-five years, a silver anniversary of sorts. There are now nearly forty farmers’ markets operating across the state with support from the North Dakota Farmers Market and Growers Association. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports a 16 percent nationwide increase in the number of farmers’ markets just between 2009 and 2010. Meanwhile, the concept of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is catching on, too. Typically, CSA members pay in advance for a share of a farmer’s produce, which he or she will deliver by the boxful each week during the growing season. The advance payment covers the producer’s anticipated costs and salary and thereby allows members to share in the risks and rewards of growing local food. Many people I’ve talked with say they frequent farmers’ markets or join CSAs because they want to buy food grown closer to their homes. The food is fresher, with all the extra flavor and nutrients this freshness implies. They also get exposed to new fruits and vegetables and new ways of cooking, they learn how food grows, and they can meet the people who grew their food. Many visit their CSA farm once a year or more. All of those reasons make sense to me. While our industrialized food system may be efficient in some respects, it is nonetheless dependent on fossil fuels throughout every phase—growing, processing, and distributing. We’re saving energy by eating whole foods raised locally. Also, our globally intertwined food system means food-borne illnesses can spread across the country in a matter of days, as outbreaks of E. coli and salmonella poisonings prove. There are unexpected pleasures that come from buying locally, too. Once when I was standing in line to buy cabbage from my farm marketer, an elderly woman ahead of me in line struck up a conversation. Without any prompting and without any apparent cue, she began telling me about the watermelon of her childhood. She told me that her dad would bury ripe watermelon in the wheat stored in their granaries. The wheat was warm enough to keep the watermelon from freezing. She said they’d be eating watermelon well into November during most years. I can only imagine what a treat it was. After reflecting on our own local food experiences the past quarter century, I’ve concluded that the grocer who placed the “Butter and Eggs” ad in my hometown newspaper nearly a century ago was right to exchange his merchandise, like cash, for eggs and butter coming from someone he knew, from someone whose farm he could visit. I’ve also decided that while we still can’t make a cake out of cash, we can build a community out of fresh food. Dean Hulse is a writer living in Fargo. He and his wife, Nicki, still own his family’s farm in Bottineau County, which is a source for much of Dean’s activism and inspiration concerning land use, renewable energy, and sustainable agriculture. In 2009, the University of Minnesota Press published Hulse’s memoir, Westhope: Life as a Former Farm Boy.
A partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities, the mission of the North Dakota Humanities Council is to invest in the people of North Dakota by creating and sustaining humanities programs that provide us with a better understanding of the past, a better analysis of the present, and a better vision for the future. Improve teaching and learning in schools North Star Dakotan provides teachers with a low-cost, educational and wellwritten text as they teach North Dakota history in their classrooms. This full color series of newspapers brings history alive in an accessible and engaging format. Picturing America brings masterpieces of American art into classrooms and libraries across the state. Through this innovative National Endowment for the Humanities program, students and citizens will gain a deeper appreciation of our countryâ€™s history and character through the study and understanding of its art. Strengthen the capacity of key social institutions to provide education and services to their communities Museum on Main Street shares Smithsonian collections, research, and exhibitions with rural Americans, broadens public interest in American history and develops a heightened awareness of local heritage, and motivates small, rural museums to make lasting institutional advancements. Dakota Discussions improves literacy and revitalizes libraries by offering film and book discussions as mediums for renewing civic connections.
Grants offered by the NDHC enhance the ability of institutions and organizations to deliver public humanities programs and opportunities. Promote lifelong learning and critical inquiry by making education and culture accessible community experiences Chautauqua uses theater as a vehicle for teaching American history in the town square. Institute for Philosophy in Public Life cultivates discussions between philosophy professionals and the general public. It is committed to the premise that anyone can do philosophy; that philosophy relates to day-to-day life; and that philosophical communities are fun, fulfilling, and essential for democracy. Read North Dakota encourages readers, writers, and educators to enjoy good literature rooted in North Dakota though community and classroom events. Public Symposiums bring the citizens of the state together to explore the people, places and ideas that have played pivotal roles in shaping our nation and world.
The Story of Food in America by Dakota Goodhouse
Across the history of the world one of the most defining characteristics of cultures is food: how it is hunted, gathered, planted and produced. The story of food in America has grown from American Indians planting and harvesting corn, squash, beans, tomatoes, and many other New World foods, to the arrival of Old World foods such as wheat, carrots, onions, beef, and many others. Most Americans donâ€™t think twice about the history of their foods, much less the origins, or even the preparation of their foods. The new Smithsonian traveling exhibit, Key Ingredients: America by Food, curated by Charley Camp, explores the connections between Americans and the foods they produce, prepare, preserve, and present at the table; it provides a provocative and thoughtful look at the historical, regional, and social traditions that merge in everyday meals and celebrations. It is the newest exhibition of Museum on Main Street, a partnership of the Smithsonian Institution and state humanities councils in service to museums and citizens of rural America. Through a selection of artifacts, photographs, and illustrations, Key Ingredients examines the evolution of the American kitchen and how food industries have responded to the technological innovations that have enabled Americans to choose an ever-wider variety of frozen, prepared, and fresh foods. Key Ingredients also looks beyond the home to restaurants, diners, and celebrations that help build a sense of community through food. Key Ingredients addresses farming, table manners, history, markets, and kitchen gadgets in a lively presentation that stimulates comparisons of back then and right now, over there and right here. The exhibition will engage audiences everywhere, creating conversations and inspiring community recollection and celebration. We are honored to host the Smithsonian Institutionâ€™s Key Ingredients: America by Food traveling exhibit and are deeply thankful to the communities of Cavalier, Watford City, Valley City, Williston, Hettinger, and New Rockford who will host this exhibit in their hometowns. In addition to hosting the traveling exhibit, each community will provide a series of events in relation to the exhibit. Visit these communities. Discover and experience the story of food in America and in North Dakota.
Cavalier, ND by Jessie Veeder Scofield
In a charming café with a big picture window looking out over Cavalier’s Main Street, three women gathered for lunch as the spring sun shone through the glass and unto their folded hands. They gathered to talk about the connection they have to a place they all call home, new faces in town, homemade bread, gardening and plans to celebrate their rich heritage with community events. Events like the 10th Annual Machinery Show and the inaugural, weekly Farmers Market—an event that Zelda Hartje, Pembina County Historical Society administrator, thinks will be invaluable to this hard-working agricultural town. “We don’t take as much time as we should to play around here,” said Zelda. Evidence of that work ethic played out on the other side of the window as trucks and farm equipment slowly rolled through town and out to the fields. Talk quickly turned to farming as Becky Ratchenski, a public librarian, explained how she moved to the community 24 years ago to work and raise her children on her husband’s family farm. Pat Morrison a Cavalier native, helps run a local implement dealership alongside her husband. And Zelda, a teacher, history buff and farmer herself greeted familiar faces as they entered the cafe while she explained that her community was home to the first mill stones. That’s life in small-town Cavalier and these are its women—diverse, knowledgeable, and welcoming. Tucked between the borders of Minnesota and Canada, Cavalier’s population is just over 1,300. The city serves as Pembina County’s seat, a region that was home to the first farm in North Dakota and a piece of trivia that proves the community’s history is as rich as the soil of the Red River Valley it’s nestled in. And the area continues to produce diversified agribusiness men and women as successfully as it raises crops, because in Pembina County farming is a family affair. With operations boasting 2,000 to 5,000 acres or more of cropland, it takes the knowledge and assistance of several generations to run the business of harvesting crops like potatoes, beets, soybeans, corn and grains. Dorothy LaCoste is one of the women at the heart of it, having spent her childhood helping to raise dairy cattle, hogs and harvest hay. She went on to marry in 1956 and soon after purchased 400 acres of land near the small village of Leroy, 16 miles northwest of Cavalier. With an additional 1,600 acres of rented land, LaCoste, along with her husband and two daughters, raised wheat, soybeans, pinto beans, hogs, chickens, corn and even Christmas trees while LaCoste maintained a full-time teaching job in the surrounding communities. And LaCoste, with her small frame and determined attitude, has run the tractor and combine from day one, even when she was eight months pregnant with her second daughter. “No one held my hand; I had to figure it out myself,” said LaCoste . “But farming is just something I’ve always loved.” Sara Hinkle wouldn’t say the vision she had for her future mirrored LaCoste’s, but she has come to share the same knowledge and passion for the business. Born and raised in Cavalier, Hinkle planned to pursue a business degree out-of-state, but during her senior year of high school she met the man, farmer and young entrepreneur who would become her husband and her plans changed.
Homemade scones sit plated at the Main Street Bistro in Cavalier, ND Photo by Jessie Veeder Scofield
“It was after our first date that I knew I was going to marry this man and I wasn’t going to live anywhere else,” Hinkle said smiling.
October 22, 2011-December 4, 2011 Pembina County Historical Museum Contact: Zelda Hartje Hours: Daily 1-5pm Address: Adjacent to Icelandic State Park Phone: 701-265-4941 Fax: 701-265-4691 Email: email@example.com
After obtaining her degree, Hinkle indeed returned to Cavalier where she not only helps manage her family’s aerial applicator business, Hinkle Air Spray, Inc., but works alongside her husband and his family as they farm 2,200 acres of wheat, pinto beans, soy beans and beets. “I do it all, anything they ask of me: combine, plant, cultivate,” said Hinkle, who also drives truck and works as an associate real estate broker. And true to her community’s values, Hinkle feels fortunate to be in a business where she can work alongside her husband and three young boys. “This family operation has been priceless to me,” she said. Priceless like the land and soil both LaCoste and Hinkle have worked hard to care for during droughts, floods and unpredictable weather—challenges in North Dakota farm country that both women have come to accept. Buy as land prices rise so do concerns about how future generations might make it on this landscape—a concern that flows through these women’s bloodstream just like the work ethic that keeps LaCoste farming and teaching well into her 70s and Hinkle putting in long hours. The same concern that keeps the women of Cavalier gathering to plan and encourage their community to grow in ideas, children, industry and, of course, crops.
Carol Mjelstad prepares homemade lefse during a Syttende Mai Celebration in Watford City, ND Photo by Jessie Veeder Scofield
Watford City, ND by Jessie Veeder Scofield
A small group of fifth and sixth graders leans against a table in the corner of the Pioneer Museum of McKenzie County and watches intently as Orville Mjelstad plops down a piece of white dough and carefully rolls it out into a large, thin circle. As he works he explains to the children that the dough is made of potatoes, butter and cream, and he talks to them about the special technique needed achieve the proper consistency. “This is my mother’s rolling pin,” his wife Carol informs the students as she uses a long, flat wooden stick to move her husband’s dough to the hot griddle where she turns it over as it bubbles and cooks. The Mjelstads are making lefse, a traditional Norwegian flat bread, as part of the National Day of Norway, or Syttende Mai Celebration, put 18
on by the local chapter of the Sons of Norway in Watford City. And the students know all about lefse. As they wait patiently to smear butter and sugar on the fresh batch, the majority of their hands shoot up in the air when asked if they have ever tasted lefse and remain there when asked if they have helped make it. This shared knowledge of heritage food is what bridges the gap between generations and speaks to the tradition that has been important to the culture in this booming agricultural and oil town. Downstairs, community members flock in by the dozens to have a taste of other Norwegian dishes that remind them of their childhood or their grandmother’s cooking. Rommegrot, Krumkaka, and Norske bryllupskaka (Norwegian Wedding Cake) were on display and served up by local women whose mothers and fathers came over from Norway to homestead and raise livestock and children on the rocky soil of McKenzie County. The food is simple, mostly white, and made from ingredients like flour, potatoes and sugar. Some of the recipes, like sot suppe, or “sweet soup,” were made with chokecherries and other ingredients gathered from the landscape, evidence of the resourcefulness the settlers passed down the family line. “When the immigrants came over from Norway one hundred years ago, they brought with them one-hundred-year-old traditions,” said Rob Favorite, pastor and president of the local Sons of Norway chapter. “These are the traditions they hold on tight to and what they pass on.” Founded in 1914, Watford City is a relatively young community with residents that remain on or have ties to the land that their family homesteaded during what the young Norwegians called “American Fever,” Favorite explained. During an impoverished time in their country where the farms were small, children
were plentiful and there was a shortage of work, young people took the promise of available land in America as their chance to escape poverty. And Favorite believes that the Scandinavian immigrants were a people meant for this landscape. Used to the mountainous, tough soil of the fjords they brought with them a built-in character and heartiness of people who know what it means to live and work in adverse conditions. A character that has kept families close and allowed for people like Jan Dodge to remain on the land her great uncles farmed and help manage her mother’s mother homestead place. “It’s important to me to keep the land in my family,” said Dodge, who raises cattle with her husband on the ranch where she grew up southeast of Watford City. “You never know how life will turn out and the family will always have a place to come back to.” That same mentality runs through the veins of her neighbors as well—neighbors Dodge grew up with who have remained to raise cattle and take care of the land their grandparents and great-grandparents homesteaded. And although the days where a family could make a living off of one-quarter section of land are behind them, Dodge pointed out that many of the ranchers in the area run their 3,000 acre-plus operations by renting land from families who have kept ownership of their family’s homestead place. And so, as combines and oil trucks alike parade through the streets of Watford City and people from all over the country look to make a living and a home in this booming town, the Pioneer Museum stands on the edge of it all, with its doors open wide to tell their story and pour you coffee and maybe, if you’re lucky, serve up a piece of lefse. And on the edge of the North Dakota badlands in what was once her mother’s house, Jan Dodge makes rosettes, chokecherry pudding and rommegrot alongside her mother and two daughters and holds on tight—just like her community, just like her family—to her traditions, her land and the food she’s always known.
December 4, 2011-January 22, 2012 Long X Trading Post Visitor Center and Pioneer Museum Contact: Jan Dodge, firstname.lastname@example.org Hours: Monday-Saturday, 10am-8pm; Sunday 1-5pm Address: 100 Second St SW Phone: 701-444-5804 Email: email@example.com www.4eyes.net
Exhibits, Events & Programs Seeds of Victory: Gardening Posters from WWII ND State Historical Society Collection Student Recipe Book Project: A collection of special family recipes from Family Consumer Science Students from WCHS Scandinavian Heritage Event and Exhibit: Members of the local Sons of Norway share heritage food and culture NDSU BBQ Bootcamp: Make the farm to food connection and learn new BBQ techniques Community & Student Book Discussion: Read about food culture and join the discussion The Apron Project: A community apron style show Healthy Cooking Classes: Lael Reed teaches cooking with whole, fresh and healthy ingredeients Native American Foodways: Learn about Native American food culture with Marilyn Hudson, Three Affiliated Tribes Museum More program being developed For more information visit: www.4eyes.net
January 28, 2012-March 11, 2012 Barnes County Historical Museum Contact: Wes Anderson, firstname.lastname@example.org Hours: 10 am-4pm Monday-Saturday Address: 315 Central Ave N Phone: 701-845-0966
Valley City, ND by Jessie Veeder Scofield
Take a stroll through downtown Valley City and it becomes quite clear why it’s known as “The City of Bridges.” The Sheyenne River winds its way through neighborhoods and parks, creating a beautiful backdrop for a business community that exists among rejuvenated and repurposed historic buildings and friendly locals waving to one another from across the street. A few moments spent with the residents will reveal that the bridges creating beautiful arches over the water seem to stand as symbols for a community holding on strong to traditions while moving toward the future with open minds and steadfastness.
Barnes County Historical Society Lecture Series Season 14 Third Thursdays 7PM at the Museum (unless otherwise noted) Sept 22, 2011 Ellen Bjelland (NDSU Extension Office) “North Dakota Food and Culture” (4th Thurs) Sept 29, 2011 Dr. Diana Skroch (VCSU) “Rapa Nui (Easter Island), Island of Mystery (5th Thurs) Oct 13, 2011 Rev Darcy Borden: Church Suppers, or Church Potlucks (2nd Thurs) Oct 20, 2011 Linda Grotberg “Recipes for Life”. (3rd Thurs) Nov 17, 2011 6:30 VCSU (3rd Thurs) Dec 17, 2011 Sons of Norway Christmas Jan 19, 2012 Tony Dutton (VCSU) “Tell Me What You Eat and I’ll Tell You Who You Are: A History of Ethnic Food in Multicultural America.” Jan 29, 2012 3:00PM Grand Opening/Café Concert at VCHS High School Activities Center Jan 30, 2012 7PM HAC Jan 31, 2012 7PM HAC Feb 17, 2012 Sharon Buhr: Food Staples Around the World Mar 15, 2012 TBA Apr 19, 2012 Christi Kracht “What’s Cooking in the Cook Car?” May 17, 2012 Dina Petherbridge (VCSU): “Mayan Gastronomy: Maintaining our Culinary Heritage”
And the community has been celebrating their agriculture roots for years with annual events like the North Dakota Winter Show, established in 1937 to provide education, promote agriculture and honor the pioneer culture and heritage. So it seems fitting that the home of the oldest and longest running agriculture show should be home to the North Dakota Agriculture Hall of Fame as well—a place where the industry’s history is observed and honored. Because in a fast-paced, technology-
Pizza Corner Pizza downtown Valley City, ND Photo by Jessie Veeder Scofield
The county seat of Barnes County, this humble city of 6,800 stands in the heart of farming country where soybeans, corn and wheat sprout and thrive in the rich soil of the valley.
based society, it is difficult to ignore how things have changed since the inaugural days of the Winter Show. “There used to be people lining the streets six abreast,” said Don Johnson, a retired farmer from Fingal, lamenting on how the city would bustle with farm families during the big event. “Now things have changed, cars are faster, roads are better and there’s more competition for activities.” More activities, yes, and more people living in town as small farms become larger, a shift that many North Dakota agricultural communities in the valley are facing. It’s a nationwide challenge, but Valley City seems to have its finger on the pulse by paying attention to new industry opportunities and introducing manufacturing businesses and technology-based growth. But according to Stephanie Mayfield, executive vice president of the Valley City Area Chamber of Commerce, the Barnes County economy is still agriculturally driven with an abundance of service businesses like Dakota Plains Cooperative, John Deere Agricultural Equipment and Air Seeding Group, and several crop and agricultural insurance agencies at the helm of the business community. And as much as Valley City is holding on strong to an industry that shaped their community, so do they continue to exude the farming spirit that still exists in the bloodlines of the Norwegian, Scandinavian and German immigrants that settled the valley. With that spirit comes a community rooted deep in traditions of coming together in food and fellowship. “People who homesteaded the landscape prepared and hosted large meals out of necessity to feed threshing crews,” said Wes Anderson, curator of the Barnes County Historical Society Museum. “That relationship with food has now become tradition. It’s ingrained in us.” Whether it’s the chili cook-off that serves as a friendly competition among local businesses, the annual church picnic, the long-standing farmers markets, or the school system that provides traveling sports teams with healthy meals while on the road, Valley City takes care of one another. “Food is at the basis of a giving and caring community,” said Aryls Netfield, president of the local gardening club. “Whenever there is a need or an event, food is involved.” Often-times community service clubs and organizations like the local VFW or Eagles Club take the lead, putting together large community spaghetti feeds, pancake breakfasts, or ham and beef sandwich lunches to raise money to help a local resident pay medical bills from an accident or a help a family affected by a natural disaster. These types of efforts are not unfamiliar to residents of small town America, but it’s the innovative thinking, follow-through and the idea that more can be done that sets Valley City above. Efforts like planting extra seeds in the city’s 54-plot community garden as part of the North Dakota Hunger Free Project and reaping 4,500 pounds of vegetables to make available to those in need. Or like Pizza Corner Pizza, one of the largest employers in Valley City, allowing nonprofit organizations and schools to sell their pizzas for fundraising campaigns. And Valley City acknowledges the importance of passing down traditions and knowledge to younger generations. Inventive learning opportunities like the public school system working with students to plant, weed and harvest an endamame garden helps educate children about farming and where their food comes from. But most importantly, it instills in this young generation a desire to explore their roots and work to understand how the community’s history and knowledge of agriculture might be used to push them toward a bright and innovative future.
Williston, ND by Jessie Veeder Scofield
Adrienne Stepanek vividly remembers her first slice of pizza. It was 1956, the year after she moved from rural McKenzie County to Williston, North Dakota, with her new husband. She was pregnant with her first child and they were visiting Seaside, Oregon. Stepanek’s experience with the cheesy slice was an encounter with food that she will never forget, because it reminds her how things have changed. “We didn’t have the choices we do now,” Stepanek said as she recalled how the grocery stores in her hometown of Williston at the time were stocked with the basics: potatoes, carrots, corn and some condiments. “We made do with what we had available to us, we didn’t have so many things we needed.” Stepanek lamented. It is quite evident as you walk the busy streets of Williston that much has changed in this bustling town, and Stepanek isn’t the only resident to take notice. As the town looks to celebrate its 125th anniversary in the coming year, one can’t help but think that when the railroad executive James J. Hill declared the town “The City of Opportunity,” he didn’t know how much weight that statement would hold decades later.
Fresh produce on display at Economart in Williston, ND Photo by Jessie Veeder Scofield
Hill’s catchy appellation and promise of fertile soil drew Scandinavian and German settlers with plans of raising cattle and irrigating farm land for crops like wheat, corn and potatoes. What they didn’t know was that below the ground existed miles of stratified rock now known as the Bakken formation—and billions of barrels of oil waiting
to be discovered. With an agricultural and energy-based economy, Williston has grown more than 22 percent in the last decade and now boasts a population of over 14,500 residents and growing. As trucks roll through town and over fields dotted with pumping units, you can’t talk Williston without talking oil and you can’t talk oil without talking history. And you can’t talk history without community.
March 17, 2012-April 29, 2012 James Memorial Art Center Contact: Kim Madsen email@example.com Hours: 8am-1pm, Tuesday-Friday; 1-5pm Sunday Address: 621 1st Avenue West Phone: 701-774-3601
Standing in the center of it all is the James Memorial Art Center, a historic landmark that focuses on bringing people together in the name of history. It is one of the only buildings in the city that has been preserved in its original state. “It’s important to have a building like this in our community because it shows where we’ve been and where we can go,” said Kim Madsen, James Memorial board president. And it looks like Williston is heading toward diversity. As people move into the area from all over the country to work in the booming industry, they bring with them new perspective, new challenges and new food-ways.
spring break. Every three months Economart welcomes new students from Brazil, Thailand, Russia, Turkey and Jamaica as part of their 168-member staff—a staff that is deep in the mix of the challenging and changing relationship between an industry that the community was founded upon and one that was discovered and rediscovered along the way.
The diverse population couldn’t be more evident than in the parking lot of the local Economart grocery store where license plates represent nearly every corner of the United States. And the new flavors of the community are reflected on store shelves as well, where customers now find a variety of spices and seasonings from all over the world, a new organic food section and a wide variety of meat selections.
But with the economic ebb and flow that Williston will continue to face, they also understand that it’s the people who make the community. And so the James Memorial Art Center is making plans to bring people together in the name of food by organizing a community event where residents can share recipes and demonstrate their own heritage cooking.
“We were a bit isolated before,” said Mike Kraft, who has owned and operated Economart since 1994. “This new activity has helped us assimilate to different cultures.”
“There are so many new people here from different cultural backgrounds, it’s time to meet them,” said Madsen.
And just as the shelves represent changes, so does the workforce, not only at Economart, but in local restaurants as well. To keep up with staff demands, food service industries have turned to companies like United Work and Travel out of New York City to hire foreign students looking for travel and employment opportunities while on
With food as the backdrop, Madsen believes that among the bursting store shelves and changing landscape, there is room for variety of all kinds, and much we can learn from one another. And that is one that that hasn’t changed in this land of opportunity.
Local farmer, Lance Ketterling’s fresh berries Photo by Jessie Veeder Scofield
by Jessie Veeder Scofield
Jodi Lefebre came home last summer after a day of work to find a bucket full of strawberries sitting on her kitchen counter. Having a large garden full of fruits and vegetables, Lefebre was delighted. She wondered who went to all the trouble to pick and clean her strawberries? But the strawberries weren’t hers. They were a gift from the garden of Lance Ketterling, a local farmer and gardener who raises 1,800 acres of wheat and corn on his family farm and comes home in the evening to tend to a wide variety of berries, vegetables, herbs and fruit. Lefebre’s kitchen was more than likely a stop along Ketterling’s route to drop off strawberries to other friends and family and to Nancy Feller, owner and baker at Main Street Grind Coffee Shop, so she could use the fresh fruit in her homemade turnovers and pies. “I just like to grow things, to experiment with different vegetables and see what does well,” said Ketterling whose recent endeavor is tending to 100 grape vines. But mostly, he confesses, he gardens because he loves seeing others enjoy the fruits of his labor. “It is fun to give the produce away and hear the stories about what they made with it,” he said. That’s the circle of fellowship in the agricultural town of Hettinger, set along the rolling plains of southwest North Dakota. Take a walk through the streets of the charming neighborhoods or drive to the outskirts of town and you will find large gardens tucked in backyards and along acres, and neighbors visiting on lawns about how the cucumbers are coming along. Because for the residents of Hettinger food, whether it’s a garden or a home-cooked meal, is a means of expressing themselves in love, healing, gratitude, and friendship. Friendships like the one formed between Hettinger, native Lafebre and her co-worker Inger Christensen, an immigrant 24
[key ingredients] from Denmark. Their shared interest in gardening brought them together to learn from each other and turn their passion into an annual craft where Lafebre showcases hundreds of homemade canned items and Christensen puts her crochet pieces out for sale. And when asked why the friends work so hard to host such an elaborate event, year after year, they both share the same reasons. “It’s the relationships I establish that I wouldn’t otherwise,” said Lafebre. “People connect with me through the food I make, ask me to teach them, and we get to be friends.” It’s the same answer that Connie Walch, local caterer and owner of The Beanery, gives when asked what makes her work special. Contracted through the Burlington Northern Railroad, Walsh is on call to serve meals to the railroad workers as they pass through town. Her homemade meals are the backdrop for the men to open up about their work, home and families. “The conversations I have with the people I serve, that’s my favorite part,” said Walch. Sandi Nelson, who participates in a program where members of the community prepare and serve lefse to residents at local nursing homes, agrees. Amazed by the memories and stories that the process of cooking the traditional Scandinavian flat bread conjure up, it is an event she looks forward to every year. “Give someone a cup of coffee and a piece of lefse and they will talk to you for hours.” Nelson said. “It’s an important way to connect young and old.” That connection is something Rita Becker takes to heart. A mother of two grown sons who grew up cooking dishes alongside her mother and sisters, Becker doesn’t let the miles keep her from sharing her love of cooking with her sons. “I learned to cook by standing next to my mother in the kitchen,” Becker said. “My sons call for the recipes now and I give them instructions over the phone.” But the important role that heritage cooking plays in a family couldn’t be more evident than in the kitchen of Ceil Ann Clemet. As she bakes homemade bread, Clemet can’t help but think of her grandmother who once lived in her house, wiped the counters and baked in the very same bread pan. And in her grandmother’s kitchen, Clemet works to engage the generations by ensuring that the tradition of making homemade lemon velvet ice cream carries on every July 4th, and that her family continues to gather for Christmases around her grandmother’s table.
“Food is a way of keeping family together,” said Clemet. “We are connected by food in our activities from birth to death.” And as Lafebre uses a friend’s recipe to turn Ketterling’s strawberries into a homemade jam to donate to a local fundraiser, it is quite clear that food not only connects but speaks as a common language between cultures and generations in this close-knit community.
May 5, 2012 – June 17, 2012 Dakota Buttes Museum Contact: Bonnie Smith, firstname.lastname@example.org Hours: Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday afternoons Memorial Day-Labor Day or by appointment Address: 400 11th Street South Phone: 701-567-4429
Special Events (Tentative Schedule) Soup Wars: Community team challenge of the best homemade soups and homemade pies in a carnival-like atmosphere Sunday, March 18, 11-2pm, Place TBA Ribbon Cutting: Special speakers, music and food at Dakota Buttes Museum in Hettinger for the opening of the Key Ingredients exhibit Saturday, May 5, Time TBA High Tea: Annual holiday tables with coordinated dinnerware, decorations, and homemade delicacies in a traditional setting Sunday, May 6, 2-4pm, Place TBA Coffee Klatches: Wednesday mornings at Main Street Grind coffee shop in downtown Hettinger. Discussions led by locals on food-based topics Wednesdays: May 9, 16, 23, 30, June 6, 13, 10am Western BBQ: Closing celebration and ceremonies with local farmers/ranchers as guides for vintage farm machinery and equipment; style show of American aprons; western music, special guests and remembrances. Sunday, June 17 at the museum. Youth Projects, Events and Activities: Ongoing Hettinger Public School 2011-2012 school year, Adams County 4-H Clubs, Hettinger Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts
Special Exhibits and Displays History of Cookbooks: Dakota Buttes Museum History of Aprons: Dakota Buttes Museum Enamel Kitchen Ware: Dakota Buttes Museum How Was it Used? (1950s kitchen): Dakota Buttes Book Displays: Hettinger Public School, Adams County Library
Coffee Bar at the Dakota Prairie Regional Center for the Arts Photo by Jessie Veeder Scofield
New Rockford, ND
by Jessie Veeder Scofield
If you’re looking for New Rockford you’ll need to take a step off the beaten path. You will need to follow the line on the map that takes you off of the interstate and into a quiet town nestled in the middle of North Dakota—a town with tidy houses, six churches, and a school placed along neat streets and cut smartly down the center by the Burlington Northern Railroad. If you’re looking for New Rockford, you may think you have found it between the farmsteads and fields outside of town, the stop signs, parks and the quiet hum of cars on the paved streets. But this agricultural town with a population of just over 1,300 has an unexpected heartbeat and creative pulse. And you can find that heartbeat inside a renovated 100-year-old building where singers and actors are rehearsing and preparing for the last few performances of a sixteen-night musical run, where community members are stopping in for a cup of coffee and tourists are making calls to the box office to grab what is left of a nearly sold-out show. This is the Dakota Prairie Regional Center for the Arts (DPRCA) and Deb Belquist, managing director, is deep in the throes of her twentieth year of musicals. A nonprofit organization that includes a coffee shop, dance studio and theatre, DPRCA was developed out of Belquist’s mission to keep the arts alive and thriving in her hometown and create a space for community members and students to come together to gain confidence, fellowship, and make a bit of money in the name of long-run theatre productions. It is a historical mission not far removed from this small town’s past. Founded in 1883, New Rockford was once home
June 23, 2012-August 5, 2012 Dakota Prairie Regional Center for the Arts Contact: Deb Belquist email@example.com Address: 818 Central Avenue Phone: 701-947-2174 Jessie Veeder Scofield is a singer, songwriter, photographer and writer who lives and works on her family’s 3,000-acre cattle ranch in western North Dakota with her husband Chad. She keeps a record of ranch life on her popular blog, Meanwhile, back at the ranch..., provides regular commentary on Prairie Public Radio’s program Hear it Now, and performs her original music throughout the Midwest. Visit veederranch.com for more information.
to at least three stage production theatres and a movie theatre. Over the years, as towns do, the buildings in New Rockford have gone through a series of changes to accommodate the ebb and flow of the generations. But under Belquist’s leadership and with countless volunteer hours, the DPRCA has converted a building that has served the community as a meat shop, grocery store, drug store, bar, dance hall and even a boxing arena, back into a space for which the building was intended. Night after night, people from all over the state and region come to fill the 130 seats and lend their applause to actors, singers and musicians performing right below the original Opera House where it all began. “It is important for people to see a street revitalized with the spirit and energy of the arts,” said Belquist. “We believe in the importance of bringing art to people on the prairie,” It’s a progressive vision by a Scandinavian agricultural community who has historically refused to use the excuse of isolation to keep them from self-expression, entertainment and ideas that keep their community thriving.
Ideas like the North American Bison Cooperative and harvest plant located south of New Rockford, established in 1993 as a farmer-owned processing company that specializes in natural, hormone-free bison and the recent establishment of Gavilon Grain L.L.C., a new grain terminal with a 120-car loading capacity for wheat, corn and soybeans. The introduction of these businesses, combined with a community that values the arts, not only helps diversify the area industry, but also draws new and returning residents to New Rockford to live, work, play and retire. “We attract people from all over the country who want to live in a small town but don’t want to sacrifice their desire to be involved in the arts,” said Belquist. “It’s all about uniting interests with opportunity.” And for Belquist and those involved with DPRCA, there is opportunity on every corner. Whether it’s theatre productions, art classes, yoga, and dance or finding creative ways to celebrate their history through the Central North Dakota Steam Thresher’s Reunion. Now in its fifty-third year, the Thresher’s Reunion pays homage to the area’s rich agricultural history by showcasing the technology and traditions of the past with a parade of steam engines and tractors, plowing and threshing demonstrations, and a community breakfast cooked in an oldfashioned cook car. With people from all over the country coming to participate and pay tribute, the DPRCA once again sees an opportunity to use the arts to dig deeper, start a conversation and entertain. And so Belquist, along with her crew of volunteers, will head out into the community armed with a video camera, microphones and questions to capture the real stories from residents who may have prepared meals in a cook car, worked the fields with a steam engine, raised their children off of vegetables from their family gardens, and maybe, when the cattle were fed and the dishes were done, took in a performance at the local theater.
North Dakota has a problem: a serious brain, brawn, and creativity drain. North Dakota suffers the highest net outmigration of 18-to25-year-olds than any other state in the nation. The statistics are sobering. In both 2009 and 2010, North Dakota ranked second on Forbes “Worst States for Keeping College Graduates” list. According to the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, for each one hundred graduates with bachelor’s degrees produced annually in North Dakota, 71 of them will leave the state. Only 37 bachelor’s degree holders (ages 22-64) will enter, resulting in a net loss of 34. The loss of so many vibrant citizens carries incalculable costs, and the reasons for their departure may be rooted in the very traits North Dakotans hold most dear. State historian Elwyn Robinson described them in his seminal book, History of North Dakota, as “courage, optimism, energy,
Theodore Roosevelt would have agreed. The people he met here were suffused with those qualities—they are what caused him to fall in love with North Dakota, and today they play a role in driving young people away. 28
“Hard Work and Much Fun”:
A NORTH DAKOTA STATE OF HAPPINESS
Photo courtesy of the Theodore Roosevelt Center at Dickinson State University.
by Debora Dragseth and Stacy A. Cordery
“There are two things that I want you to make up your minds to: first, that you are going to have a good time as long as you live—I have no use for the sourfaced man—and next, that you are going to do something worthwhile, that you are going to work hard and do the things you set out to do.” Theodore Roosevelt’s Journey Like so many Dakotans over a century ago, Roosevelt was first an “in-migrator.” He was born to a very wealthy New York family in 1858. Even before he matriculated at Harvard College in 1876, he was a recognized as an expert ornithologist. An avid reader, he was a hunter, a taxidermist, a naturalist, and extremely fond of the outdoors. But he was also puny, undersized, sunken-chested, asthmatic, and nearsighted. At Harvard, he fell in love with a beautiful Bostonian named Alice Hathaway Lee. They were married on his twentysecond birthday in 1880 and, a year later, he entered the New York State Assembly. In the autumn of 1883, he came out to the Dakotas. In so doing Theodore Roosevelt joined a larger American phenomenon. The federal Homestead Act of 1862 opened up the West by granting settlers 160 acres, provided they lived on and cultivated part of the land for a set time. As TR matriculated at Harvard, the Northern Pacific Railroad aggressively began to recruit settlers by mailing pamphlets in English, German, and other languages touting the great possibilities in the Dakotas. Advertisements packed the pages of American, Canadian, Scandinavian, and German newspapers. Thus enticed, people came eagerly and the Great Dakota Boom of 1878 to 1890 began. The Dakota boom caused the northern territorial population to increase from 16,000 to 190,000. In 1890, when the frontier was declared officially closed, 43 percent of the state’s inhabitants were foreign born. Western North Dakota was still the Wild West of Indians, cowpunchers, buffalo hunters, saloon rats, and outlaws. The land played, as it still does, a central part in the story of western North Dakota: blazing hot summers, blinding blizzards, miles of grassland punctuated by abrupt bluffs and buttes, magical sunrises and sunsets, long winding rivers and endless open spaces. 30
Theodore Roosevelt arrived at the start of that boom. He came to kill a bison. He took the Northern Pacific nearly all the way to the settlement of Little Missouri.
Top left: A young Theodore Roosevelt. Bottom left: Theodore Roosevelt’s Maltese Ranch Cabin. Left: Theodore Roosevelt with his horse.
There was little to see when TR arrived and Medora, the “town” across the river, had only been founded five months earlier, in April 1883. There wasn’t much there, either. Like the hero in many Western tales, TR was totally out of place in his new surroundings. But Roosevelt wasn’t after civilization. He was gunning for a buffalo. It took him ten long days of nearly constant cold, driving rain, Badlands mud, and missed shots. He was freezing. He was wet. He was riding tough miles and sleeping on hard ground. He was thrilled. This was living! It was nothing like his “effete” Eastern existence where he was protected by money and coddled by his relatives, where he had every comfort his inheritance could buy. This was the sort of adventure only real men could endure and appreciate. He was so enthused, happy, and imbued with the spirit of the place that he embraced its potential and bought $14,000 worth of cattle and the Maltese Cross Ranch. He began to consider seriously a career as a Dakota ranchman. After eighteen days, he had to return to his pregnant wife. Five months later, she and his mother both died on Valentine’s Day in 1884. In shock, TR wrapped up business in the legislature, gave his newborn daughter to the care of his sister, and returned to the Dakotas to mourn. He arrived back here in June of 1884. Needing more quiet than the Maltese Cross could offer, he bought the Elkhorn Ranch, 35 miles north of Medora. He hunted. He avoided a duel. He punched out a drunk in a bar. He brought thieves to justice. He participated in cattle drives. He survived a midnight stampede during a thunderstorm. He injured himself. He wrote. In his terrible grief, it’s as though he had to throw himself against a force as strong as death. Everything Roosevelt did in North Dakota, he did to an extreme… and the countryside, the weather, and the experiences of Westerners matched his desperate and stricken state. “I do not believe there ever was any life more attractive to a vigorous young fellow,” Roosevelt recalled, “than life on a cattle ranch in those days. It was a fine, healthy life, too; it taught a man self-reliance, hardihood, and the value of instant decision—in short, the virtues that ought to come from life in the open country. I enjoyed
the life to the full.” He loved the doggedness of the people, the critical nature of the work, the majestic scenery, the opportunities. “We knew toil and hardship and hunger and thirst…but we felt the beat of hardy life in our veins, and ours,” he proclaimed, “was the glory of work and the joy of living.” What Theodore Roosevelt appreciated in North Dakotans was their courage, their physical lifestyle, their persistence, their ability to shrug off danger, their calm and nondramatic fashion of taking life in stride, their facility with horses, cattle, guns, and knives, their independence—but also their ability to come together in community when the need arose. His experiences here became the basis for his strenuous life. He would say his political success rested on what he learned in the Dakotas. North Dakota shaped Theodore Roosevelt. Here he cultivated an inner strength he suspected he possessed but had not been adequately tested. If the cold winter of 1886-87 had not killed off the majority of his herd, there might have been a different ending to the story of TR in the Badlands. But his time here provides a mirror for North Dakotans. We can peer into the past to see an extraordinary man who lived and loved this western life. He preached the importance of the strenuous life and criticized the choice to live without toil or danger. North Dakotans today take pride in the same qualities of perseverance, self-reliance, and pride in hard work. But are these traits, dating back to the settlement of this territory, still valued today? Is hard work still considered exciting and fun? What do generational changes have to do with the prevailing perception of young people that a better life is to be found outside the borders of this state that Roosevelt loved? Do North Dakotans today believe that happiness lies somewhere else?
A State of Happiness For the last three years, the Gallup organization has called 352,000 randomly selected American adults between January 1 and December 31 (1,000 people a day) and asked them about their quality of life. Responses are then converted to Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, a part of Gallup.com’s massive project “State of the States,” the most comprehensive study of its kind, revealing state-by-state differences on political, economic, and well-being measures. One of the questions in the poll is, “Did you experience 31
feelings of happiness during a lot of the day yesterday?” Ninety-three percent of North Dakotans said “yes,” ranking the state third on the well-being or happiness scale and trailing only Hawaii and Wyoming. We rank an impressive number two in emotional health, barely edged out by the number one state, Hawaii. As the folks at Gallup acknowledged, “Sun and waves might be good for the soul—but the sunshine doesn’t necessarily elbow out Northern Lights and snow.” Happiness is an enduring sense of positive well-being, an ongoing perception that life is fulfilling, meaningful, and pleasant. Science tells us this about happiness: Marriage makes people happy, but children don’t. Youth and old age are the happiest times in our lives. Globally, teenagers are the happiest people. And, of course, money doesn’t buy happiness. Yet, these are simply generalities; happiness is not onesize-fits-all. Some of us are happier after our marriages end, or the happiest times in our lives might be in our 30s or 40s. With the utmost certainty, however, all of the research tells us one thing: happiness is a choice. Neuropsychologist Dr. Rick Hanson believes, “We can actually use the mind to change the brain. The simple truth is that how we intentionally direct our attention, embrace positive experiences instead of negative ones, it will alter the brain’s structure.” Much of what changes us is our experiences. Theodore Roosevelt certainly had never read the research, but he intuitively knew that he needed to be among North Dakotans and in the singularly beautiful Badlands in order to rediscover his happiness. As Hanson emphasizes, “What flows through the mind actually changes and sculptures the brain.” If any of us could live our life over again, what might we do differently? In studies of people older than 95, three answers surfaced time and again. They would 1) reflect more, 2) risk more, 3) do more things that would live on after they were dead. Although he only lived to his early 60s, Theodore Roosevelt surely hadn’t any of these regrets. So, given that North Dakota consistently ranks as one of the two or three happiest states, why do so many of its young people “escape” at their first opportunity? Demographers who study outmigration note that high school graduation and college graduation are the two key exit points. Researchers David Schkade and Daniel Kahneman surveyed 1,993 college students in the Midwest and southern California, asking them to rate their overall satisfaction with life. The researchers 32
found that the two groups were nearly identical in their self-reported life satisfaction. However, when they were asked whether Californians were happier than Midwesterners, both groups consistently reported that Californians were happier. The researchers posited that “it is not unlikely that some people may actually move to California in the mistaken belief that this would make them happier.” North Dakota hit its peak population in 1930 at 680,845. But that’s not at all what observers thought would happen. Early twentieth-century forecasters expected North Dakota’s population to expand to two million people, of whom 200,000 would be farmers. At an average family size of five, there would be one million total people on the farm with another one million living in cities and towns. The 2010 census counted 672,591 North Dakotans. Today, the state’s overall population is not declining; however, the population is consolidating and aging. Data gathered by the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation predicts that by 2012, the number of people age 65 and older will surpass the school-age population in North Dakota. And by 2020, nearly half of the counties in North Dakota are expected to have fewer than 4,000 residents. College seniors tend to believe that life in North Dakota is harder than elsewhere and that by leaving, they will be happier. A full 33 percent of them—all native North Dakotans—insist they will definitely leave the state after graduating, one-third indicate that they will definitely not leave, and one-third are unsure. Those who intend to outmigrate believe their choice will make them not just happier, but wealthier and more fulfilled. Phrases like, “I am anxious to leave and experience bigger and better things,” and “I am leaving to start a career with more opportunities” pepper the comments of seniors who intend to leave the state. Yet North Dakota boasts five main positive characteristics, even for those readying to depart. The seniors treasured the comfort and safety of North Dakota, the fact that there is less competition here, the friendliness of the people, the proximity of family, and the shorter commutes to jobs. But there were five negatives that weighed more heavily. In North Dakota, they believed they faced a lack of opportunities for advancement, low pay, a relative absence of technology, brutal weather, and a signal lack of social activities such as concerts, sporting events, and varied venues for nightlife.
Should North Dakota Change? Does North Dakota need to change? Or, do we simply need to readjust the internal as well as external perception of North Dakota as a difficult place to live where people couldn’t possibly be happy? Ron Wirtz, editor of the Minneapolis Fed’s newspaper, recently wrote that “Unemployment is 3.7%, and according to a Gallop Survey last month, North Dakota has the best job market in the country. Its economy sticks out like a diamond in a bowl of cherry pits.” Yet, for every piece of good news, there seems to be a counterbalance in the national press. Richard Rubin wrote disparagingly in the New York Times that North Dakota is “as you might imagine it: Vast. Open. Stark. Mostly flat. All but treeless, Above all, profoundly underpopulated, so much so that you might at times suspect it is actually unpopulated. It is not. But it is heading there.” Whether we alter perception or reality, change is difficult. As famed North Dakota pundit and former lieutenant governor Lloyd Omdahl stated in his Bismarck Tribune column, “Unless we are under great economic stress…North Dakota plods along in the wagon tracks of our predecessors.” Yet if we can’t retain our young leaders today, when will we ever have a better chance? Let’s look to our mirror. What might TR have to say to young North Dakotans today? Perhaps he would repeat the words he offered in 1898 to a group of schoolchildren in Oyster Bay, New York: “There are two things that I want you to make up your minds to: first, that you are going to have a good time as long as you live—I have no use for the sour-faced man— and next, that you are going to do something worthwhile, that you are going to work hard and do the things you set out to do.” Nature and remoteness are not seen as the twin enemies for those who find their happiness in western North Dakota. Perhaps, as TR found, closeness to nature and the land, doing something useful and leaving a legacy are the things that are necessary for peace within. The pursuit of happiness beckons us all, but it shouldn’t beckon our youth away from North Dakota.
Debora Dragseth is a professor of business at Dickinson State University. She is an active speaker on the topics of leadership, outmigration and Generation Y. Dragseth develops leadership curriculum for Fortune 100 companies and has been a recent contributor to New Geography, India Times, CNN.com and MSN.com. Her work on outmigration has been cited in both Forbes and Newsweek magazines. Stacy A. Cordery, a professor of history at Monmouth College in Illinois, is the author of the recent biography and New York Times Notable Book, Alice: Alice Roosevelt Longworth, from White House Princess to Washington Power Broker. Her newest book, Juliette Gordon Low: The Remarkable Founder of the Girl Scouts, will be published in February 2012. In the spring of 2011, Cordery served as the first Distinguished Visiting Scholar at the Theodore Roosevelt Center at Dickinson State University.
The pursuit of happiness beckons us all, but it shouldn’t beckon our youth away from North Dakota. 33
by Will Beachey
Don’t come here, River. It’s not floor joists foundations sheetrock you destroy— it’s where we kissed the kids goodnight where we made spaghetti on a Saturday night listening to the Penguin Café Orchestra where I sipped a beer watching baseball where the boys practiced cello and piano. Here’s the deal— we’ll move the couch, the piano, the buffet the beds—everything— we’ll move them out. We’ll lay down 9000 sandbags we’ll work hard ‘til dark. Then we’ll leave. (Sorry, house; you seem so sad, so shamed with your carpet ripped out, the pad exposed. But we’ll come back. We’ll drive through deep water even when we can’t see the road below we’ll check on you every day.) But then, River, you stay back. Don’t come here. Tom Gerhardt
The Right to Food by Tayo “Jay” Basquiat
One evening when I was in college, my fellow students and I amassed in the usual line at the dining hall doors. Instead of proceeding to the trays and food line as usual, we were given numbers and told to find our numbered place at the tables inside. Seating was arranged such that most of the tables formed a square around the perimeter of the room with chairs placed on the outside of the square so that diners faced the center of the room. In the center of the room was a table for ten, elaborately set and decorated. Each of us found our way to our designated place, the room abuzz with curiosity and nervous laughter. My place was in the outer square; one of my best buddies took his place at the center table. The smell of food emanating from the kitchen was unusually scintillating. Soon, a small army of servers came with our dinner. They started with the center table: mixed green salad, fresh-baked bread, honey butter, and some kind of cheese. I watched my friend dig in; he was grinning ear to ear. We, at the outer square, waited for our food. Nothing. Someone across the room picked up a knife and fork in each hand and started banging his fists on the table, chanting, “We want food!” Some joined in, others just laughed while speculation continued as to when we in the outer square were going to get to eat. I watched my friend at the center table; he looked very smug. Next, the servers brought the main course to the center table: roast beef, mashed potatoes and gravy, corn, more fresh bread, and milk. The smell reminded me of home. I couldn’t wait, thinking surely this time the outer square would get food too. And we did: the servers brought out three very large pots. The place-settings at the outer tables consisted of a paper placemat and a glass. In the center of each mat, we each received a big dollop of white rice. Other servers filled our glasses with water. That’s it. No utensils, no roast, no bread. I looked at my friend at the center table, and when our eyes met, he laughed and exaggerated his enjoyment of a large bite of roast beef. Eating my meal—even with just my fingers—took about two minutes tops. I was angry and then envious when I saw the dessert course, again, only for the center table diners. At this point, some of the center diners started showing signs of discomfort regarding their situation. The angry taunts from the outer circle diners couldn’t be silenced. Something that started out feeling like a game suddenly felt like a huge injustice. Each
student at that meal paid the same meal fee as part of the dining program at our college, yet clearly we did not all get the same for our money. In my mind I was already forming a letter of complaint to the college president, but I also assumed that at any moment the situation would be rectified and we at the outer table would receive the real meal just as the center table diners had. But then we were all escorted out of the dining hall and the doors to it and the snack bar locked; we were to go to the auditorium, presumably for an explanation. My friend apologized in his goofy way, laughing the meal off as a joke. I was not laughing. This experiment at our college was one of the events during Global Awareness Week. In the auditorium we were asked how we felt during the meal. From my point of view, I felt angry. My sense of justice and fairness was violated: I paid the exact amount of money that the center table diners had, therefore I felt I had a right to the same meal. In the study of philosophy, we learn early on about logical fallacies— simply defined as an intentional or unintentional error or inaccuracy in reasoning that leads to a false belief or conclusion. One logical fallacy (and there are hundreds) is the fallacy of equivocation, using the same word with two different meanings within an argument where the crux of the matter rests on the slippage of that word’s meaning. Here’s an example: “Giving food to a hungry child is the right thing to do, so hungry children have a right to your food.” The equivocation here is the word “right”: the first usage refers to the moral assessment of one’s action, meaning here that giving food to the hungry child is a good thing to do; in the second usage, that same child now has a right or entitlement to your food that trumps your right to do with that food what you will. This equivocation on the word “right” results in an erroneous conclusion, a logical fallacy. Or does it? Numerous documents in the twentieth century have set forth basic human rights, including the right to food. The United Nations in 1948 adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that specifies the “right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of [a man] and his family, including food, clothing, and shelter”; in 1966, the UN adopted “The International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights” that specified everyone’s right to “adequate food”; and in 1989, the UN undertook the “Convention on the Rights of the Child,” reminding us all that there are vulnerable among us who cannot or do not have the power to assert their rights, including the right to food, and rely on someone else to do this for them. What do these documents mean by saying that everyone has a right to food? Did I, in that meal at college, have a right to the same food as the center table diners? If everyone has the right to food, why do so many people (in 2010, 925 million people in the world, over half of them children) go hungry? Adopting a document establishing that everyone has a right to food does not make for food to eat or hunger to be assuaged, so what 37
“The whole meal would have been better if our table had been in a different room so we wouldn’t have had to see the other students.”
good is wrought by recognizing the right? And more fundamentally, does such a right even exist? An answer to these questions may be found in closer examination of three aspects of rights. First, the notion of rights stems from the attempt to delineate what is necessary or essential to living a human life. People use the language of rights to express their vision of the good society, or their conception of what we owe each other. The United States Declaration of Independence references certain “inalienable rights” as does France’s 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man. The intent of such documents was to establish a particular kind of society in which legislative activities and social institutions and relationships would seek to elucidate and establish these human rights. This conversation evolved into the categorization of different kinds of rights. So-called first-generation rights are fundamentally civil and political in nature, protecting the individual from excesses of government. These rights include, for example, those found in the U.S. Bill of Rights such as the right to a fair trial and vote. Next, people realized that certain basic rights needed to be in place in order for people to enjoy the first-generation rights, and so second- generation rights were recognized: rights to things such as housing, food, health care, employment, and so forth as essential to enjoying civil and political rights in life. People don’t care about voting rights if they are homeless, starving, and dying of sepsis due to lack of access to medical care. This brief treatment of the nature of rights is, admittedly, oversimplified, but addresses a possible objection that people do not have a right to something like food, that food is a fruit of one’s labors. From the perspective of what it means to be human and live a human life, however, the right to food is a recognition of a basic necessity, fundamental to the enjoyment of the other rights we have taken such pains to enumerate, meet and protect. If food rights are subject to the free market game or some other vision of social relations a la Hobbes, capitalism or social Darwinism, then all rights are subject to the same objection, ceasing to be rights at all. If you have to be able to buy your right to freedom of religion, then only those with money or power will have that right—a Machiavellian “might makes right.” Second, recognizing a right necessitates the attendant recognition of a counterpart obligation: if someone has a right to something, someone else has an obligation to meet or protect that right. These obligations might not be delineated by legislation, but they are duties or obligations nonetheless from an ethical standpoint. The philosopher Immanuel Kant referred to this as perfect vs. imperfect obligations where imperfect obligations are ethical requirements that stretch beyond the fully delineated duties (which he called ‘perfect obligations’). So while throwing half your dinner in the trash is not illegal, you are ethically obligated to attend to the right other people have to what you see as your food to waste if you please. You have the means to meet the right to food that other people have; because the right exists, you are ethically obligated. Finally, recognizing the ethical status of rights and not just those that have legal status provides motivation for constructive efforts and activities beyond—though perhaps leading to—the legislative realm. Important social awareness is gained through a watchdog agency like Human Rights Watch or by the existence of a political document like the “Convention on the Rights of the Child.” For example, while we don’t like to acknowledge this, food is often used as a weapon to achieve political gain. Whether used as a carrot or stick, a grain embargo between nations in order to pressure a leader on an issue results not in the hunger of the leader but rather the further suffering and starvation of the most vulnerable of that nation, especially children. While an embargo might be a legal tool in the political realm, special philosophical gymnastics are required to make us feel better about the violations of ethical implications that have us uncomfortably wiggling on the proverbial hook.
[plain thinking] And as uncomfortable as it is, we need to be on that hook and recognize our obligations. Chances are, if you are reading this magazine, you are among the “food secure” in the world: you have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life (definition according to the World Health Organization). Hunger and starvation just aren’t a part of your daily life; you have food and plenty of it. For the food secure, the hungry are easy to forget and world hunger is easy to dismiss as “too big a problem for little old me.” While paralysis in the face of such a huge problem is one side of complacency, the other rests in leaving our obligations in the hands of the state or other institutions, rather than seeing world hunger as a matter involving our individual obligation to meet the rights of others. An awakening on this order might be found in an exercise of moral imagination, such as the one I was given after that meal back in college. During that subsequent conversation in the auditorium—while I was in a huff about the violation of my rights, one of the center table diners made the comment, “The whole meal would have been better if our table had been in a different room so we wouldn’t have had to see the other students.” That is the statement that sticks with me to this day, some 20 years later. As a single person, I used to believe I ate my meals primarily alone. Now I know that isn’t ever the case. Every time I eat, I eat in the midst of a world full of people. The obligation to meet everyone’s right to food does not go away just because I close myself off in a private room of my own making. I speak here of invoking the moral imagination: imagining there in the room with me, the hungry whose meal consists of rice—or nothing at all—while I feast on anything I well please. Invoking this imagination is the beginning of taking up my ethical obligations in the form of constructive action: Am I eating more than my fair share? How does my food budget reflect these obligations to others? Do I busy myself to learn about the institutions, corporations, and organizations whose environmental, labor, processing, and marketing practices involve themselves in my meals? Can I be mindful enough to imagine a circle of the hungry and their needs as part of my own meal practices? The twentieth century documents I mentioned earlier express the right to “adequate” food. When we speak of rights as our vision of a particular kind of society, the context of one’s dinner table is a good place to start. As a host of a meal, you wouldn’t serve your guests a dollop of rice and then serve yourself a three-course feast. Nor, if the tables were turned, would your idea of your right to food be satisfied by a spoonful of grain. We should not satisfy our sense of obligation here by calls for more food, export more grain, increasing growth and supply. World hunger has little to do with supply. Food insecurity has to do with availability, access and utilization more so than supply. People can’t eat what is rotting in a locked warehouse because political will is lacking in distributing that food. Similarly, cartons of macaroni are useless to those who do not know what it is, how to cook it, or whose bodies, due to prolonged hunger and sickness, are unable to absorb the nutrients in such food. People cannot eat when other people in well-off countries use—and often waste—more than their fair share of the food. Think of how a television show like Iron Chef America would play before an audience of people who are food insecure. When we begin to look at the complexity of hunger issues and the right to food, we can easily see that the answer is not to just grow more food as quickly as possible. We will each need to be more involved in meeting our individual obligations. We each need recognize our obligations to the hungry one dinner plate at a time, making changes to our own individual use, understanding of and relationship to food, acknowledging that we don’t just have individual rights, we have individual obligations as well. We each need to realize that every meal we eat happens in a room—no, a world—full of people who have a right to food. 39
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