In the opening of Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals, there is one page neatly covered in black matchstick-size hash marks except for one small sliver of white, where it looks like a single line was peeled away. Below this illustration is written a simple fact:
Americans choose to eat less than .25% of the known edible food on the planet.
Seriously? Not even 1%? How can that be? So every single story we tell in this magazine is about one tiny sliver of all available food?
As startling as that fact is, the meager range of our diets is not even the most interesting part of the story. Think about why we make these choices and how they have changed over time: From cultural selection to individual taste, we have picked out only a fraction of the bounty that surrounds us to call food.
This idea captured our imaginations. As we planned this issue, we found ourselves focused on answering a deceptively simple question: What makes something food?
Is it food because it comes from a supermarket or refrigerator? Certainly both of those inventions have seriously impacted what we eat. Is it food because our grandmother ate it or it’s easier to feed to the kids? Is it food because it tastes good? Because it’s nutritious?
Take another look at our cover. Before we produced this issue, if you had asked us which pile of worms we would prefer to eat, it would have been gummy worms, without a doubt. But if you consider the nutritional value and environmental impact, the mealworms are the better food. And now that we’ve have tasted them sprinkled on tacos and tortillas at our editorial insect dinner party, we actually know the crunchy, nutty flavor of roasted mealworms. So if you strip away the cultural influence, which pile of worms is food to you?
In this summer issue, we invite you to consider what is edible and why? How did we develop this national appetite for sugary, salty, and corn-laden processed foods, and leave so many nutritional options off our plates? Why are junk foods such a staple in our diet and, we admit, especially yummy when paired with good wine? While some of the ingredients in these stories may shock you, that is not our intent. These aren’t exotic ideas. People all around the world eat insects, and squirrel has been featured in the White House cookbook—twice! Our intention is to inspire you to think about why you eat what you eat when there are so many more options than you probably ever imagined.
Summer is all about adventure and our writers and photographers have collected a season of stories that we expect will lead you on your own culinary journey. So we invite you to take a step out of your comfort zone to become more conscience of what’s on your plate and how all of our choices may be helping to define what future generations will consider edible.