You are what you eat” is the proverbial notion that to be healthy, one needs to eat good food. But making healthy food choices is only part of the story. The bigger picture includes how and where the food is produced. Is there reverence for the land and water and respect for the people who plant, tend and harvest? Do we waste food or share it?

STEPS, which stands for Seneca Towns Engaging People for Solutions, and Consumer Reports will sponsor a conversation and workshop about making healthy food choices on Oct. 8 at 6:30 p.m. at the Edith Ford Memorial Library in Ovid. “Eating Locally. Eating Sustainably” will be facilitated by Lynne Doyle and me. Lynne is a retired educator and current STEPS Community Engagement Specialist. I am an innkeeper who thinks a lot about food. I’ve been cooking personally and professionally since I left home over 50 years ago.

Consumer Reports is a nonprofit organization dedicated to unbiased product testing, investigative journalism, consumer oriented research, public education and consumer advocacy. It is a nationwide agency that has provided information about a variety of products since 1936.

Many of us living in the Finger Lakes are blessed with a cornucopia of food choices. There are farms with roadside stands, farmers markets and community gardens, food pantries and supermarkets from which we stock our fridges and pantries. And many of us garden too.

Yet many people are hungry.

Lodi residents have been running a food pantry since 2015 to help their friends and neighbors who struggle with food insecurity. The Lodi Food Pantry includes Thanksgiving Day boxes of non-perishable goods and fresh produce from local farms. Karel Titus, a farmer and an organizer of the pantry, emphasizes that this is a resident-driven effort. Increasing food access benefits everyone.

Today in Brooklyn, the Rev. Melony Samuels of the Full Gospel Tabernacle Fellowship is changing the way people in her community relate to healthy foods. She asks, “If you had a choice between hunger or diabetes, which would you choose?” Rev. Samuels says many of the low-income families she has worked with over the years have often faced this question.

Urban dwellers are regaining some ground to food access. In Geneva, an egg cooperative on former industrial land has created the opportunity for city residents to own chickens. In Philadelphia, a community garden is an oasis for neighbors, transforming an abandoned lot, now teeming with vegetables and flowers.

Jane Goodall, scientist and primatologist, lamented, “Someday we shall look back on this dark era of agriculture and shake our heads: How could we have ever believed that it was a good idea to grow our food with poisons?” Those toxins include glyphosate, neonicotinoids and other chemicals which cause cancer and have adverse effects on reproductive, immune and nervous systems.

Soil is losing its fertility and pollinators are disappearing. Industrial agriculture accelerates the loss of biodiversity. An example are the fires for clearing parts of the Amazon jungles. Farmers are transitioning to more restorative or regenerative practices. They know the soil contains living communities of microbes that maintain the health of the soil. Pesticides destroy microbes and disrupt carbon sequestration.

What is the benefit or burden that food has on our health, the environment, climate, and those who farm? Farming is the thirstiest user of water and a major polluter, as runoff from fertilizers and manure disrupts fragile lakes, rivers, and coastal ecosystems.

Recently, I participated, in part, in a “Seneca County Summer Twilight Ag Tour,” sponsored by the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Seneca County, Soil and Water Conservation District, and the Seneca County Farm Bureau. I visited a dairy and a meat farm. The families at the Persoon Dairy and Autumn’s Harvest farms are acutely aware of the impacts of their operations on the soil, water and the lives of their animals. As stewards of the land, they work hard to keep their farms alive. Persoon sells milk to Lively Run Goat Farm.

There is much we can do now to feed ourselves and families in a healthy way. When we eat close to home we foster a symbiotic relationship between what we eat and where we live. When foods travel shorter distances, “farm to table” connects the earth to our kitchens in meaningful ways, like more nutritious foods and less wasted energy and water. The local economy becomes more sustainable.

Lastly, in our fast paced and often distracted lives, we often forget to give thanks for that which the earth and our labor provides. We hope you’ll join the conversation at the Ovid Library “kitchen table” on Oct. 8. Let’s share experiences and tips and build the security that comes with knowing what we eat and where it’s from.

Workbooks and samples of locally grown or produced foods of the Finger Lakes will be provided. The event is free but limited to 15 people of all ages. To register call (607) 403-0069 or email stepscommunity@s2aynetwork.org.

Tony Del Plato is an innkeeper, cook and contributor to Moosewood Restaurant cookbooks. He lives in Interlaken.

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