Having just returned from eight days in England, I was slightly at a loss about what to feature in my weekly post this afternoon. But an item in today’s news caught my attention and got me thinking about geography. According to the 2008 Farm Bill that the U.S. Congress just passed this summer, all unprocessed meat, produce, as well as selected nuts will have to be labeled with their country of origin beginning next Tuesday, September 30. Touted as a safety measure to help American consumers make informed decisions about their food purchases, I wonder if it will do anything to improve our geographic literacy. Are we just a nation of shoppers looking for a bargain and familiar brands, or are we prepared to educate ourselves about how and where the things we eat are raised, grown, fertilized, or slaughtered? Although symbols and flags have not been deemed permissible labels (personally, I think small silhouettes of each country would be truly—pun intended—COOL), I’m of the belief that such abbreviations might actually force us to learn even more than we will from the names of countries alone. Just think of all the moms and dads pushing their inquisitive children around grocery stores in Maine or California. What questions might they ask upon spotting a piece of fruit bearing the image of Chile’s long, sinuous outline, or a package of peanuts stickered with the vaguely Pac-Man-esque shape of Senegal?
Ben Keene is the editor of Oxford Atlas of the World. Check out some of his previous places of the week.