Pablo Neruda, the great Chilean poet, wrote that the tomato enters the kitchen and “takes its ease on countertops, among glasses, butter dishes, blue saltcellars. It sheds its own light, benign majesty.” Food has a presence that extends far beyond our own sustenance. It is, on its own accord, the marriage of art and science, of farming and technology, of markets and opportunities. It captivates us in the way all art does. And at those moments, it seems vulgar to talk about it in terms of its calories or its futures price.
For more than 120 years, our college has had a hand in the production of food. We have taken the position that studying its elements would translate into benefits for people, animals and our natural resources. We have unquestionably advanced the frontier of knowledge about food production, food quality and nutrition. And in the process, we have focused much of our attention on food itself: its wonder and beauty as a natural object, the importance of producing it with efficiency and care, and our obligation to treat it in a manner that can be sustained by generations to come.
Agriculture is among the most revolutionary innovations of humankind, a technology that has allowed us to feed a growing population, but one that creates profound effects on our world. The domestication of crops, animals and microbes renders them entirely dependent on us for their survival, giving us responsibility to steward the land and its bounty. The beauty of our job as educators, as scientists and as citizens is that we can be sure that our stewardship is well-informed and compatible with culture and tradition.
The famous epicure Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin said: “Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.” In that spirit, we devote this issue of Grow to our modern food system: its complexities, its challenges, its past and its future. With the benefit of science, art and even a bit of poetry, we strive to show what we eat—and, by extension, who we are.