Photograph by Jasmine Wiggins
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Cabbages soak up the sun in North Carolina.
Photograph by Jasmine Wiggins

Jasmine Wiggins: Why I Care About Food

Some people wake up thinking about the world, or about some man or woman, or about the man or woman compelling them to leave their cocoon of blankets and to go to work.

I wake up thinking about the earthy smell of dark roasted coffee. That, and what might go with it. A dish of cool yogurt drizzled with golden honey? A puffy croissant, or maybe just a humble piece of buttered toast? This is what gets me out of bed in the morning.

Pretty much the rest of my day is spent thinking about food. (Is the chicken free-range?) Obtaining food. (No, really, is the chicken free-range?) Preparing food. (Eating a whole roast chicken at midnight must be totally normal someplace.) Some people might think that traveling 50 miles on a whim to pick my own berries just because the ones nearby  tasted “off” is an obsession. I prefer to think I’m just curious.

I am curious about how the food we eat gets to our table. How is it grown? How is it prepared? Why do we eat it? I’ve spent a lot of time rethinking what food is. Once you’ve had a ripe berry off the vine explode in your mouth on a hot summer day or eaten eggs fresh from the henhouse to your skillet, you start to wonder why the food we purchase every day from the average grocery store tastes the way it does, or why we buy a box of graham crackers instead of making them from scratch.

Some people see food as a necessity or as fuel in the caloric tank that is our gut. I view it as an experience. It is ritual. It is sensory. It is not just a chicken. It’s the way the first bite floods you with warmth and takes you home to your mother’s house. It’s comfort. It’s sharing this experience with someone. It’s love. I like cooking not only to satisfy myself but also to feed others what they may not have known they were hungry for.

Food is beautiful because it’s universal, like nothing else is. We all depend on it. It doesn’t matter where you come from or what you’re fighting about. We all have to eat. Food is a vehicle to share culture and to bring us all around the same table. On a trip to Brooklyn I once visited a small, crowded Jewish deli. Inside, Yemeni Muslims served up piles of hot, juicy brisket to an eclectic group dominated by African Americans. What else besides food can do that? Food brings us together, dissolves differences, and connects us with the Earth; even if you live in a high rise, one bite of summer’s first corn can take you right out to the country. Food is probably our strongest connection to each other and to the Earth.

This story is part of National Geographic’s special eight-month “Future of Food” series.