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A Food Autobiography

By: Jonathan Hagberg

Food Log

Thursday:
12:00 pm Raymond Dining Hall: grilled chicken & Rice covered in Sriracha sauce
6:00 pm Raymond: Grilled Chicken & Rice covered in soy sauce
Friday:
2:00 am Alumni Cafeteria: Buffalo Chicken Sandwich
7:00 am Raymond: Apple Pancakes, Sausage, scrambled eggs
7:00 pm Alumni: Turkey club, Sun chips.
9:00 pm Snack: Nature Valley Granola Bar
Saturday:
5:00 pm Raymond: Spaghetti, rice and baked beans, cookies and milk
11:00 pm New Haven Food Truck: French fries and chili cheese sauce
Documentation of Rice:
For most of my upbringing, rice had been a fairly common part to my meals.
It was never the main focus of my meals but it was a common side dish to have.
Boxes of Rice-A-Roni often lined a shelf in our cabinets. I had never questioned
where the rice came from. I assumed we bought the box at Stop-N-Shop and the
rice was grown in some field. I had paid little attention to the origin of this rice.
Much like the rest of the food that I ate, I only appreciated that it was on my plate.
Since coming to college, I have developed a much greater respect for rice.
Rice has invaded many of meals and takes up significant portions of my plate now. I
have found it an accessible, healthy, and versatile addition to my diet. It works well
with a variety of produce, protein, and spices. Since having to eat most of my meals
at Raymond dining hall, I have taken an appreciation at the variety of meals that
rice can provide with the proper ingredients. Just how does this major part of my
diet end up on my plate in Raymond?
The first step towards my plant is a rice seed. Most seeds are planted in Asia,
were 90% of the worlds rice is grown. The Americas followed by Sub-Saharan Africa
are the leading producers of rice after Asia. Most rice is grown in rain-fed lowlands
("International Rice Research Institute"). These are the areas that most think of

when they think of rice fields. Low paddies flooded with water. This is the most
common form used to grow rice among impoverished subsistence farmers. For
industrial farmers such as in much of China and the U.S. is farming via irrigation.
This is an expensive yet reliable method of farming that nets large yields of rice
("International Rice Research Institute").
After the rice is harvested it is moved into processing. There are a variety of
processes that rice could undergo depending on the intended use. The first is that
the hull is removed. The hull is hard and inedible. Once the hull is removed, rice can
be dried and shipped as brown or whole grain rice. To get white rice the kernel must
be further stripped of both germ and bran layers in the milling process. This leaves
the mill or white rice. This can then be dried and shipped. In order to make instant
rice, before milling, the rice can be parboiled before use. Any number of these
processes can be performed on the rice served at Ray, as they often serve a variety
of rice ("USA Rice Federation").
The rice at Ray is most likely grown in either Louisiana or California. American
strains are usually Indicia strains of rice which have a long grain variety found
mostly in the Mississippi delta and account for 70% of American rice. Over a fourth
of the U.S.s rice is grown in the medium grain variety in the Sacramento Valley of
California. From these two places, rice is grown and shipped all over the U.S. and
world (Childs). Some of which ends up in Ray. A good deal of the rice at Ray comes
from the U.S. despite the high costs of irrigation farming. Whether it comes from
California or the South could be determined by the type of rice but not with
certainty. Although, American markets are unable to compete with imports of Asian
rice of the aromatic variety. These types do not grow well in America and thus must
be cheaply imported from Asia. These aromatic varieties often show up in Ray and

should be assumed to come from Asia. Regardless of where it originated, I dump a


serving onto my plate and create a tasty dish to eat.

Food Reflection
One could say that I am a big fan of food. Everyone in my family liked to cook
in some way. My mother has always cooked traditional mom meals she interpreted
from her own mother, meatloaf and macaroni & cheese being some of her favorite
(and mine too) dishes. My father has always attempted to make the tastiest and
most creative meals on a frugal budget. He has an excellent track record. My stepfather being a chef for many years has introduced me to a wide variety of dishes
and tastes.
Over 18 years I have sampled a variety of delicious foods from all sides of my
family. The day to day meals on the other hand were much more standard. Despite
the occasional family gathering, we often stuck to easy canned and packaged
goods. We did not shop at Whole Foods where the packages are certified to be
organic and bio-degradable; we shopped at Stop n Shop because it was cheap and
convenient. Boxes of Rice-a-Roni, frozen vegetables, and Campbells Soup were
common sights in my fridge and cabinet. Most of the food we ate at home was
canned, boxed, or frozen. The meat on our plates often depended on whatever
animal was in surplus and thus on sale at Stop n Shop. Our decisions on food were
almost entirely based on price and rarely took into consideration locality or
sustainability.
This trend continued once I entered college. For all of freshman year I would
swipe my ID and load up on food once I was inside Ray. My choice of food for the

first semester was largely based on whatever looked the tastiest. I would happily
wait in the obscenely long line that develops in Ray whenever chicken nuggets are
served. I would almost always leave Ray with whatever dessert appeared to have
the most chocolate. Much like when I was at home, I cared little about the food I ate.
I consumed the most caloric, sweetest, and interesting food I could find. This was
not a healthy relationship to have with my food. Without my parents looking over
me, I ate cookies before dinner, got filled up on bread, and did not eat my
vegetables. I ate poorly and irresponsibly during my first semester.
In my second semester, I began to make a conscious effort to eat healthier.
This is the time when I developed my strong affection for rice, particularly combined
with beans or chicken. Over the course of that semester I experimented with a
variety of meats, produce, and rice. A simple bowl of rice and beans is a quick and
easy meal I can make at Ray. From this base I can develop the dish to include some
vegetables and meats or a variety of sauces and seasonings. I find a base of rice
and beans to be one of the most delicious and nutritious meals I can make at Ray.
Since that semester I have become pretty interested in developing the best
combinations I can muster at Ray. I have slowly started developing a proper respect
for my food. I limited myself on portions and chose healthy alternatives. I was much
wiser in regards to what I put in my body. The decisions I made in regards to my
food choice for primarily individual reasons. I did not look at the reaching
consequences of my food choice at this point.
Not until this semester did I seriously consider my food choices on a global or
even statewide scale. I had not looked into where Ray receives its food and how my
decisions could impact that. Due to this class I have become more conscious about
where my food comes from. In order to find out where my food ultimately comes

from, I look to where I get most of my food; Raymond Dining Hall. From There I look
to the company that runs and manages Providence Colleges cafeteria, Sodexo.
Sodexo is a company for profit and is therefore looking to minimize costs
while maximizing profits. For example, Sodexo proudly points out that they are a
tray free institution. This leads to students getting more food than they can eat and
reducing waste. This is a fantastic outcome. It also reduces the food cost of sodexo,
thus making more money per student. Sodexo did nothing wrong in this transaction,
it is just an example of how Sodexo works. They work for their bottom line, and that
is the real number that matters to them. It is important to understand that profit is
what drives the companys motives.
As noted earlier, some of the products that Sodexo serves through Ray must
come from the other side of the globe since they will not grow elsewhere. The
Jasmine and Basmati rice that is often served in ray will only grow in Asia and must
be shipped from South Korea and Taiwan (Childs). Bananas and coffee are served
consistently year round at Ray. Both of these are served at all times despite the fact
that neither of them can grow in New England. On the other hand Ray serves apples
year round. They provide apples year round despite the fact that they are only
around during the fall in New England. It would seem that Ray purchases Its food
based on what is the cheapest.
I found out there was some demand for local foods at Providence College. I
posted a suggestion to the comment board asking for more local foods to be served
at Ray. Prompted by this course, I was curious to find Sodexos initiatives to
introduce local foods into Ray. A few days after I posted the note, Ray employees
responded that they attempt to buy local produce when available and they buy local
apples for this time of year. While I have been unable to test the validity of their

produce being local, they have brought in apples from as close as Vermont. There
are a variety of boxes filled with apples from northern New England. This is certainly
a valid attempt to bring local foods into the dining hall but it could be so much
broader. A potential fear would be the cost.
Currently I pay $4,770 to eat 15 meals a week for 8 months. That number is
far higher than the cost of getting fed back home for a year. If my family had that
much money to spend on food for each person, we would certainly by more
conscious of where our food comes from. Most students including myself would not
want to pay even more than that just for the opportunity to eat more local foods.
The actual cost of maintaining the cafeteria, paying the workers adequately, and
purchasing local foods would force the cost up far too much. Not only is the cost too
high for Sodexo, there is not nearly enough student support of local foods. Sodexo
does not have any incentive to pay premium prices for local foods when Freshmen
will pay the full $5,300 and eat whatever the staff puts in front of them. Introducing
a local alternative to Ray is not a practical solution for myself.
If I want to change the food that I eat, I will have to change where I get most
of my food. I would much prefer to live without a meal plan and have a kitchen of
my own. This way, I would have a considerably more personal relationship with the
food I eat. I have already planned with my friend that our house senior year will
have windowsill herbs and vegetables. Taking control of my food from Sodexo will be
the best way to localize my food. I will be in complete control of the food I buy, and I
am in an area that has great support from the local food market. Every Wednesday
there is a farmers market on campus. Fertile Underground is a fantastic resource to
buy local. By the time I am in my senior year, Urban Greens may also be up and
running, opening up yet another avenue to buy local. It would be difficult to be

perfectly local but I will be eating more locally grown foods on my own than I would
be eating at Ray. Not only in my senior year will I hope to be eating more locally, I
hope to be eating more cheaply. I will likely keep my food expenditure under $5,000
for a year while I live in my own apartment. I could eat locally, healthily, and
heartily for well under $5,000. This would not come without difficulty. In order to get
closer to my food and practice a more sustainable model, I would have to relearn
some of the fundamentals of food.
As my step-father Tom Murphy who has worked in the restaurant business for
over 15 years stated, The biggest obstacle for people buying local is eating
seasonally (Murphy). On a micro level, people have difficulty eating locally. Not
only is it cheaper to buy food from Stop N Shop it is easier. It is possible to predict
all the food that will be at the supermarket. The prices may fluctuate, but the
options will remain virtually the same. It is possible to predict and plan a meal
before even stepping into the supermarket. There is no variability when going to the
supermarket and there will be no surprises. A person does not have to know when
strawberries are in season in order to buy them. It is possible to buy star fruit and
avocados at the supermarket. Relearning this skill for many young Americans is the
key to get them hooked back onto a local system. The other end of the market is
plagued with problems as well.
My stepfather related some information based on his experience supplying
restaurants with produce. Most companies he has worked with and the ones that he
still does are often unable to name where the produce comes from. Most of the
produce that comes in to his restaurants is from California. If he tries to ask where
his food comes from, it will likely remain unanswered. For the delivery driver, it is
just far too much effort to source every box of produce that he drops off. There

could be some locally grown food in those boxes, but Tom has no clue whether or
not, because there is no incentive to check (Murphy).
In order for local food systems to take off outside or Rhode Island, there has
to be a demand among the consumers and the producers and distributers have to
respond to this. I hope by making the choice to go local, I contribute to movements
that could expand and encourage growth in this sector of business. As I and the
others in my class spread awareness of locally grown food, distributers and retailers
will realize that there is a market for this. There will be a greater support network for
small local farmers to participate in the market. With more local foods on the
market, it will be easier and easier for families such as mine to buy local.

Works cited
Childs, Nathan. "Rice: Background." USDA Economic Research Service. USDA, 27
2012. Web. 22 Oct
2012. <http://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/crops/rice/background.asp&xgt;>
"Rice forms by Milling and Processing." USA Rice Federation. USA Rice Federation.
Web. 22 Oct 2012.
<http://www.usarice.com/index.php?
option=com_content&view=article&id=100&Itemid=106>

"Rice production and processing." International Rice Research Institute. IRRI. Web.
22 Oct 2012.
<http://www.irri.org/index.php?
option=com_k2&view=item&layout=item&id=9151&lang=en>.
Murphy, Tom. Personal Interview. 10 21.