What I Did This Summer

The good folk at Canada’s Globe & Mail asked me to write a piece called “What I Did This Summer.” Never having written one before, I thought I’d channel my inner 12 year old.

Cuzco, Peru: This summer I started to write a book and film a documentary with my hero. His name is Steve James. He filmed ‘Hoop Dreams’ which was about basketball and hope and disappointment and race and inequality and America. Our film is called “Generation Food”. It is about how we will eat in the future.

Steve and I talk to Lino about potatoes

So I went to Japan. People used to live long lives in Okinawa because of the traditional diet. Lots of people lived until 100. Now grandparents are burying their children. They don’t eat as they used to. When the Americans came with their military base, they brought fast food for the GIs. Everybody eats it now. I visited farmers who plant crops on US bases. They did it so often that the Americans gave up and just let them do it. I ate goat sashimi because it would have been rude not to.

Then I went to Cuba. I saw where Hemingway pickled his liver. I learned why the US bans Cuban rum. If they let it in everyone would drink it. The food isn’t very good. The Cubans blame the Spanish for making them want to eat beans and rice and pork. This is a shame. Cubans have some of the tastiest fruits and vegetables on the planet. I talked to Cuban cooperative farmers. Some of them talked about money in ways that would make a Wall Street trader blush.

We have been trying to raise money for our project. I learned why they call it ‘a campaign’. Every hour every day we work on finding new ways to share the things we have learned. I discovered that crowdsourcing isn’t about money but about building a community. Not many Canadians have joined in. I don’t know why.

Now I am in Cuzco in Peru. It is cold in the shade and hot in the sun and the air is so thin that the stars fall every night. The weather has changed. The indigenous people have lost quarter of their growing season because of climate change. Because we’re not in America any more, it’s ok to talk about climate change without people thinking you’re crazy. Indigenous farmers have figured out ways to grow food despite the weather we have made. They are scientists but people think they’re backward. The government likes the Incas because the tourists come to see the ruins. But they don’t like the indigenous people because they want to control their own land, and don’t want mining companies to evict them.

I have learned that: People are kind. Everyone has contradictions. Raw goat tastes funny, but it’s not as bad as Cuban food. The world is more beautiful than I imagined. There is more hope for the future of food than I dared to believe, against impossible odds. And it comes from unlikely places.

And after the summer, I was never the same again.

10 Replies to “What I Did This Summer”

  1. Thank you for sharing. I am Canadian, and I will search what your project is, and talk to those Canadians around me about it. I love reading about community, co-operatives, and revelations.

  2. I love this.
    I read your longer piece about Cuban food. I am still surprised the food is bad. Please keep sharing.

  3. I’m on board, Raj. If there’s any way I can help let me know. I’ll put your wonderful video up and link this soon. I think there is infinite wisdom in your premise, that the solutions and brilliance lie in those out working in the real food producing world each day. These are not theoretical issues. Best of luck.

  4. beautiful raj

    Thank you. It is important to recoginise that the simplicity of people doesn’t imply that they are simpletons. In fact they are experts in their own right and must be respected.

    This life-challenge continues unabated.

    Continue your good work

  5. ‘the backward scientists’ are the ones I want to be with.
    To build a community, share ideas, is the ideal.
    ‘People’ need to ‘want’ to go back to eating like their previous generations. The fun and joy of ‘preparing’ food must become excitement,wonder,entertainment. We need to eat less but real food. Its these backward scientists who could tell us what real food is. Envy you your summer jaunts into the souls of these ‘non specialist’ food growers, the revolutionaries of revelations.

  6. I’ve read your book stuffed and starved (chinese version)as well as the value of nothing, and find them remarkably informative and inspiring. And I’ve pretty much watch most of your speeches. I’m a Canadian Chinese now. I’ll join your new program, well actually I think I’ve already been part of your community.

  7. I enjoyed reading this light-hearted but poignant little piece. I plan to read it to my meditation group this evening. I notice the alarming number of Americans who are obese. How do you tactfully bring this issue up? Do you ever rest?

  8. Im glad to hear a bit of optimism, for your own well being, and its too late to be a pesimist. I read your books and they have helped me a lot.

  9. Hi Raj

    I read your articles previously on the Guardian website, and admired them greatly. It is only recently that I bought your book “stuffed and starved”. I have read the first 60 pages so far (last night). I am completely shaken from what I read. I don’t know how I missed this vital information, and I considered myself well-informed. This completely changed my perception of buying food. Needless to say, I will try buying food only from farmers unions, and if not, from organic markets. Reading your book is giving me a very useful counterpoint about the recent government decision in India to allow foreign retail chains. I thought it was just about retail market, your book shows that this is about far bigger than that.

    I do have some concerns about organic food, and how that is more resource intensive. But I will first finish reading your book, may be that will change my mind further.

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