When I was a kid, my mom regularly packed a pb&j on white bread sandwich—or perhaps a slice of processed cheese, also on white bread—in my lunch box. Kids were able to buy a pint of milk, maybe a bag of chips or Fritos, and, just maybe, a banana, apple, or orange. Not terribly healthy, but not terribly unhealthy either. Nobody was bringing anything whole grain or organic or vegan or gluten-free—none of those concerns existed back then. Food was simpler.
Not so today. In our acclaimed series At Table, we look at the complexities of what is a basic human need but isn’t so straightforwardly understood nowadays. At Table is a multidisciplinary series that seeks to reflect on and explore not just what we eat, but the process of eating as well—from how and where we obtain food, to food preparation, to our dining companions.
We hope, with our books in the At Table series, to expand and enrich the ever-changing discussion about food politics, nutrition, and the cultural and sociological significance of food consumption. The series also looks at issues such as sustainability, agriculture, and the business of food production.
This year, we’ve published some exciting books in the series. One, Growing Local: Case Studies on Local Food Supply Chains (edited by Robert P. King, Michael S. Hand, and Miguel I. Gomez), compares the multiple social, economic, and environmental dimensions of local and mainstream supply chains of five products in five metropolitan areas. You’ll be surprised at some of the findings. Another book, In Food We Trust: The Politics of Purity in American Food Regulation (by Courtney I.P. Thomas), is the first comprehensive examination of the history of food safety policy in the United States, analyzing critical moments in food-safety history, from Upton Sinclair’s publication of The Jungle to Congress’s passage of the 2010 Food Safety Modernization Act. The book helps explain why most federal food-oversight agencies are fundamentally limited in their power to safeguard the food supply. Scary!
In some ways the many issues surrounding food extend into every aspect of life: politics, economics, culture, history, literature, and so on. At Table will continue to bring books that ask important questions. So it sounds like my peanut butter and jelly on processed white bread is a thing of the past, even if, with the milk I’d buy to go with it, it still conjures up wonderful memories of the perfect combination.
Maybe in the future our grandchildren will fondly remember the kale chips and soy milk packed by their mothers?