A Local Food Project in Pennsylvania: First in a Series

by dooglas carl
December 11, 2017
1st in a series on local food
Locally sourced salads, cheese and beers at a small brewpub in
Pennsylvania. Photo courtesy of douglas carl. 

Food. We eat it, drink it, socialize around it, enjoy it, critique it, take pictures of it, and then expel it. Food is an integral part of our existence, as we need it to survive, so it holds a place of utmost importance in our lives. Despite this central position of significance to our survival and social cohesion, people increasingly are distanced from the origins of the food that they eat. In our current era, food exists as a conundrum: it holds a central and a necessary part in human life, yet for many there is a magic to food, as it seemingly appears out of thin air in our grocery stores, quickie marts and restaurants. There exists a disconnect between what we put in our bellies and where that food originates and how it's created. There are also people, organizations and businesses working to change that lack of understanding and bridge the disconnect.

Personally, food has found a central part of my own life. Outside of need, I have worked in kitchens, bakeries, and fields, all places where food is grown, created, transformed, and made ready for consumption. As an anthropologist, my work around health issues always included the threads of food. From documenting local food practices, to studying the effects of school garden programs on students and their communities, to exploring the role of food in keeping people healthy, even when the overall study aim was something else, food always found a role in the story.

Now, having left academia and started consulting, I find myself working on an especially fun and food-focused project: developing and sustaining a brewpub with a focus on local sourcing, regional foods, and community building. This project brings many aspects of my personal interests and expertise into practice, allowing me to move beyond studying, theorizing and writing, and into creating anew and practicing. Having completed my master's and doctorate in an applied anthropology program, it's a joy to actually apply my work in a real world setting that has affected not just the small family-owned business that I am consulting for, but also the wider local and regional community, as well as more than two dozen small local businesses. And it's all about the food we eat!

This work, now two and a half years in, has been exhausting and rewarding. It has taken up most of my time, such that I scarcely have time to work on anything else, and has severely limited my work on other consulting projects. However the project is meeting with some success, and the reward of seeing a community coming together around food in a place where that has not happened much in the recent past is fulfilling. Not only that, it is a useful model, and teachable. And so, I will use this project as a means of writing about food, food culture, food business, sustainability, resilience, community building, and more. As an anthropologist, it is my duty to share my work and open it up to critique, to growth, to input, and to surprise. Please stay tuned, and feel free to question, comment, encourage, suggest, or critique this and the coming series on Local Food.

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