J500 Media and the Environment

The Cheese Stands Alone by justinlev7
February 27, 2009, 3:38 pm
Filed under: Business + Politics, Food + Health, Society + Media | Tags: , , ,

When I stayed with a family in France, I had two roommates: Chris, from Kansas, and Victoria, from Ukraine. Chris hoped to be a museum curator, I hoped to be a journalist, and Victoria hoped to be… a cheese-maker.

Up until then I had not known any cheese-makers. A whole field, completely alien to me.  The only thing it brought to my mind was the Monty Python bit: “Did Jesus just say, ‘Blessed are the cheese-makers?'”


Worldwide Dairy Exports

I couldn’t imagine devoting the rest of my life to cheese-craft, of all things. “Doesn’t she have goals?” I thought to myself. “Is that what she dreamed of as a child? Seperating the curds from the whey, watching over vats of cream as it curdles into tomorrow’s Swiss, Gouda and Provolone? This will be her career? The fruit of all her labor will be  sandwich toppings?”

In fact, my cheese-ist prejudice was purely cultural. After all, France has a long, storied tradition of cheese-making. Victoria was learning French in preperation for a selective training program sponsored by a manufacturing company that had been in the cheese business for centuries.

Fast-forward to later on: I was at a party talking with this guy , and I asked what line of work he was in. “Les dindes,” he said. I didn’t have the best French, so I didn’t immediately believe what my brain was telling me he meant. Couldn’t be. “The bird?” I asked in French. “Like the chicken, only bigger?” “Oui,” he said. This man was a turkey breeder! His job was to make sure turkey bloodlines continued to improve. I couldn’t believe it!

In the context of European culture, this should not have been surprising. There is no shame involved in working for the food industry. Victoria worked and studied as hard as I did, and her aspirations were as valid as mine. It was ignorant of me to presuppose that because my parents are academics, only academic careers can be honorable (all around the world, no less). And realistically, she will likely make a good deal more money than I will. The turkey guy already does!

For me, working hard and making a difference in the world did not go hand-in-hand with food production. In fact, simply thinking about the subject brought unpleasant connotations to my mind, from the image of overcrowded slaughterhouses to the putrid smell of cow pastures back home in Illinois.

Wait a moment… that’s strictly meat production… Hmmm…

Where did my unfounded prejudice come from? Why isn’t the business of producing humanity’s food more respected in American society? I think the answer lies in our culture, and begins with our modern reluctance to go outside, get our hands dirty, and labor for our dinner.

Justin Leverett’s cheese is nacho cheese.


5 Comments so far
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What a cute story. Food clearly isn’t as much of a staple in American culture as it is in European culture, which can be a shame. I think that here, on a grand scale, it has become a business, not something that is a part of our lives that holds real value (to the point that we make our own cheese!). The locavore movement is one of the closest ways we can come to imitating their food structure.

Comment by jessicasb

I think a lot of your thoughts have to do with the middle class fear of falling. These days, successful people don’t work in jobs that have to do with physical labor… or so we think. It’s such a bizarre mindset. The more successful you are, the farther you are from the natural world– you live in an air-conditioned palace and exercise at the gym, if you exercise at all.

Also– LOVED your cheese link! So fun! Did you notice the term ‘Teroir’– it was a word meaning the climate and environmental situation that created the milk for the cheese. Would you just LOOK at that level of consciousness!

Comment by brennad87

Lol, Brenna! I can just imagine you looking at the website, thinking to yourself. ‘Damn! Just LOOK at that level of consciousness! That is some serious consciousness, right there!” 🙂

Je blague. I definitely agree with you, Jessica. You should’ve seen what market mornings were like over there! Imagine our Farmer’s Markets, multiply them by ten, then add stands devoted to individual types of food, such as sausages, seafood, cheeses and even Chinese food. Take that, squared, and you’ll have an idea. I don’t think they’d want it any other way.

Comment by justinl7

I think we even look at our fellow Kansans with some disdain. Oh, they are FARMERS? They go to K-State?

As you write, they are doing work that is just as valid as ours (if not more).

Comment by Lauren Keith

I really liked your post. My initial reaction probably would have been the same as yours, and it’s interesting to think about why that is. We overlook the importance of quality food production because the other side of food is so convenient, and something we would never consider making a living out of. I think Lauren’s K-State vs KU comment makes a lot of sense, too.

Comment by amandat09

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