In this blog I have written a fair amount on the way we eat. To summarise my thinking so far: I think that food is all about connection. It is about connecting with the people with whom we eat it; the community from which we purchase it; the farming economies that produce it; the animals that become it; and our own bodies which sensually, nutritionally, and spiritually benefit from it. Food is not only the fuel of human life. It is the medium through which we learn about and express ourselves.
I am not waxing lyrical here. I genuinely believe in ascribing such importance to food, as you may have guessed if you have read my other food posts (ignore the bit about the monkey-brain dip). Allow me to elaborate.
When a friend cooks you a meal, it is hard not to feel cared for in even a small way. It shows that someone has taken the time and trouble to nourish you and to create a nice evening which can be shared enjoying each other’s company.
The movement away from local shops to supermarkets, though it is a cliché to say, is excoriating communities. We are losing contact with the supply source, with accountability for products, with the traditional skills and knowledge of butchers and fishmongers, with the simple joy of friendly, no-strings banter over a cauliflower and a bunch of carrots. Ironically, by being in the larger consumer space of a supermarket we are more separated from each other than ever. Usually the first words spoken to us in a supermarket shopping trip are ‘how would you like to pay?’.
As we ignore the ‘country of origin’ labels on the products, and collectively empower supermarkets with massive bargaining power, farmers’ businesses become dictated to them by supermarket buyers. This has a direct effect on the way our land is farmed: the quality of produce; the intensiveness of the methods involved; the range of foods we are presented with; and the quality of life of people working in the industry.
We ignore the information available to us about the standards of life afforded to the animals we are going to eat and just search for the cheapest, most prettily packaged meat. The result is the commodification of animal life. We close our eyes to the suffering, despite all the lessons from history which we ignore at our peril. Dioxin contamination, foot and mouth, BSE, salmonella and the rest are not blips in farming quality. They are a growing trend. The resources used by intensive meat farming in terms of grain, water, and energy are so great that many people find it immoral to eat meat at all. But if we insist on free-range, non-intensive farming and let go of our relentless hunger for cheap, poor quality meat with every meal then I think meat eating would no longer be such a strain on the environment. It is not the animals but the factories we lock them in which cause the problem.
From infancy we learn to ignore the needs of our bodies. We should be learning to listen. We dull our taste buds and senses with artificially flavoured, coloured, fatty, sweet food. We cherish the notion of eating like fois-gras geese until we feel stuffed. Does the amount of food on our plates always coincide with the exact amount we need? The metabolism is an amazingly evolved tool, being capable of taking advantage of a rare glut of fat and sugar, storing it efficiently. But of course now we have no shortage of these commodities. The result is obesity, and a palette which yearns for ketchup with everything. Fast food is not just convenient- you can buy a healthy meal just as quickly and easily. It is about delivering our bodies a quick hit of fat and sugar and perpetuating a diet of short-lived satisfaction. Through educating our palettes and senses, and by cooking our own food rather than buying factory prepared crap we get a feel for the nature of our food and the needs of our bodies.
Right, I’m off for a kebab.