By Nathanael Johnson, Grist
It used to be that journalists wrote from behind a curtain. We went out and gathered our facts, cobbled them together in stories, and published — all as anonymously as possible (aside from the byline). We weren’t supposed to write personal essays about the issues we covered or give money to politicians, because it would expose our biases. Journalists were afraid that people wouldn’t trust the news if they knew there were flawed and opinionated people writing the stories. I think readers can judge for themselves. And I’m up for working without that curtain.
So, as Grist’s new food writer, here’s where I’m coming from: I was born into the cult of organic. My parents were Berkeley hippies who moved to the little bohemian town of Nevada City, Calif., when I was a toddler, to get back to the land. That childhood left me with a preference for nature and a suspicion of technology. But growing up in Nevada City also gave me a front row seat from which to observe how faith in nature could spin into fuzzy thinking and paranoia. By the time I was 18, I was already fed up with people giving bogus nutritional advice or lectures on chemtrails. I loved science because it could separate plausible and crazy. I fell in love with journalism for the same reasons. I got a job as a reporter in Burley, Idaho, mostly covering agriculture.
It was there that I began to consider food a subject of serious contemplation. Burley lies within the Magic Valley, and the magic there was the technological transformation of parched sagebrush flats into some of the most productive industrial farmland in the world. There were sugar beets rolling off of every third truck in the winter, miles of potatoes blooming prettily in the summer, and all year round the stink of massive dairies (the scent of dairy-air, as one colleague put it). And yet, amid this bounty, I found myself desperately lonesome for food. There were plenty of calories; what was missing were the unquantifiables that I was used to getting with food: a sense of renewed vitality, conviviality, delight.
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Photo by Inecita/Flickr.