Thinking About Food

August 2, 2011 § Leave a comment

A friend and I started a food blog, and it has me thinking about the evolution of my relationship to food.  Food is very much tied up for me with love and the absence of love.  In working to embrace a love ethics in everyday life, food comes up for me again and again as an area of key importance, a place where my values and growth can find a tangible way to manifest themselves.

I first began researching food ethics after I first moved away from home.  In my spiritual practice, I was working to make peace with the trauma of prolonged hunger I experienced in my young life, worried about my relationship to food.

I grew up eating ready-made foods in a town dominated by a Wal-Mart and a highway lined with fast food franchises and surrounded by inedible fields of corn and soybeans.  My family ate infrequently and without any community surrounding the rituals of eating, food preparation, or food production.  My parents split up during my family’s prolonged financial crisis, and food got scarce.  I fished in our pond and harvested wild blackberries and revisited the long un-kept blueberry bushes on our property, wishing they had been maintained enough to have a yield like they had years before.  Yet those small acts of food self-sufficiency were hardly adequate to offset hunger.  Despite having land, my family had no capacity to produce food.  When money got scarce, so did food.

Only one generation before my parents, my grandparents on both sides were children of homesteaders.  All their lives they produced and preserved and prepared their own food.  I can remember each of my elderly grandmothers gifting us so modestly with cans of applesauce, pickles, relish they saw from planting to preserving on their own property, as if this were a meager gift.  I think they had come to view those gifts that I saw as precious and see as even more precious now as signs of poverty and not of dignity and self-reliance.  Within one generation, that lifestyle and those skills were lost, and I am left attempting to relearn them from sources outside my heritage.

Nothing happens without someone willing it, someone imagining and implementing it – save weather.  The push towards the “Green Revolution,” the industrialization of agriculture, outweighed any political will in the American people to maintain a food culture rooted in heritage, community, or our own soil.  How on earth we let that go, I cannot imagine.  I can only suspect it was fueled both by an exploitative advertizing industry that promised liberation through the freeing up of time and energy used on food and the simple sway of providing a people riddled with money anxiety a way of meeting a basic need in a cheaper way so long as it was swaddled with the added benefit of having all signs of the unethical practices involved in production suppressed– a formula consumerism employs rampantly.

I believe we remain morally accountable for our willed ignorance.  And what’s more, that it does not genuinely serve us.  It requires self-chosen suffering now to de-compartmentalize food production and become aware of the massive complexity and immorality of our food system.  Each step along the line of food production and consumption is riddled with suffering we are safeguarded from empathizing with.  A inevitable result of a system with its bottom line and only ethical code being the making money is that it sees the misery of humans and animals, both present and future, as irrelevant.  There was a time during my journey towards increasing my consciousness when I felt almost intolerably hopeless, literally walking into a grocery store with the carefully erased lines of production drawn back into my mind and thinking, “There is nothing to eat,” and feeling miserable about every one of my purchases.  Soon I was able to realize the missing piece, which was, “There is nothing here to eat,” and to go elsewhere for my food, tapping in to local economy and alternatives I was lucky to find in my city.

As a society, we are dependent upon a fragile global trade economy for our food.  I don’t believe a people can have sovereignty without first having food sovereignty.  America as a dependent behaves in much the way the aristocracy has throughout history, demeaning and coercing those who provide for us by suppressing their access to their human rights and provision for their basic needs outside of taking on the appropriate supporting role.

On an individual level, at this point most of us not only lack the resources and knowledge to provide in any way for our basic needs, our entire relationship to food has been disrupted.  We do not even know how to eat when we are hungry and not eat when we are full.  If America can be said to have a food culture, it’s one of emotional eating where we all live in an ebb and flow between overconsumption fueled by unfulfilled longing and untended suffering and self-deprivation through unsustainable dieting and exercise – a cycle fueled by lovelessness and corresponding self-hate rather than by love.

I’ve spent a long time trying to envision a  relationship to food rooted in a love ethic and garnered some glimpses.  It includes an ethic that would assert that food is good, that the body is good, that it is good to eat and satisfy hunger, that it is right to affirm and maintain a natural body weight, that food is to be shared, that hunger is suffering, and promote empathy for all suffering and active participation in alleviating that suffering.  None of these beliefs inform our current system, which instills moral apathy and self-hatred and misery and little else as far as I have been able to surmise.

Food should be simple. As my wise professorly roommate once said, “Simple is the hardest thing in the world.  Simple is what you get after all the work to sort through all the baggage and false leads.” Food is complicated.  I’m still working to tie my personal journey with a collective one and sort things out, but I have to say, as I move along the way, food betters better and so does life by result.

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