Wednesday Morning Muse

Food is a microcosm of the macrocosm. Eating the right food is part of the solution to the problems of climate change and global hunger.(1)

Resurgence Magazine is focusing on Food this month.

I often find myself drawn to the subject of food…Not necessarily for reasons that would appear obvious. As a teenager I cut my proverbial eyeteeth on Rodale’s monthly magazines when they were still somewhat controversial. My grandfather had an early subscription to Organic Farming & Gardening and I would devour them on my visits to their house. He raised a large organic garden each year and had a small nursery where he specialized in oaks. Grandpa always mixed his potting soil by hand. He liked  a mixture of half river bottom topsoil and half well-rotted manure. It was this hand-mixed soil that he attributed the rapid growth of his seedlings to.

Food in the World

Access to food should be a fundamental human right: food is Nature’s gift to all. Feeding people and all living creatures is intrinsic to life, to existence, but sadly food has become a commercial commodity and no longer available to everyone equally. The primary objective of those who deal in the business of food is to make money, and feeding people has become secondary. No wonder we face multiple crises such as the rising cost of food, and an obesity epidemic alongside malnutrition and world hunger.(1)

Much has been written of late about the perils of the industrialization of our food supply. I personally lay a large amount of the epidemic of obesity at the foot of industrial agriculture and the commercialization of the food preparation. We all go through life under the assumption our food supply is safe and we are protected by Government inspections…until we are disabused of these assumptions by the breakdown of the system. I also question the safety of the additives that have made their way into our food supply without regard for the ultimate safety of long term human consumption. Then I worry about what the combination with other additives might portend for our health. Can anyone explain how eating meat fed with growth hormones for years and years cannot effect our own growth?

Food is a microcosm of the macrocosm. When we focus on the food economy we immediately pay attention to the multinational corporations who turn food into a commodity; to genetic engineering of seeds where crop control and agricultural decisions pass from peasants and farmers to managers and engineers. If we are concerned about industrial farming, agri-business, food miles, soil erosion, cruelty to animals, fast foods, fatty foods and non-foods then we have to look at our plate and what is on it. The food in our pantry and in our kitchen is ultimately connected to climate change and global poverty, as well as to our health.(1)

For a generation of Americans, I have a feeling, we are already too late to turn back the clock. But we must insist that the safety of our food is of paramount concern. A concern that must be protected by the Government Agencies that were set up for those purposes.

Soulfulness of Food

Perhaps the greatest challenge in this time of rapid technological advance and the shrinking of the globe is to create a world community. But that important task can’t be done in the abstract. Food can play a role. Food as community, not as a commodity. Whatever power allows lunch to foster friendship, wedding cake a marriage, and bread and wine a religion could make a community of the world’s population. But we need first to restore soul to food.

Ways to re-animate food, like food itself, are quite simple. We could grow food in a humane setting: a garden or a real farm. We could learn to prepare it, each of us, with care and pleasure. And we could return to dining: eating with manners and style with the family, friends and community. There is always a place for a quick meal, but everyone also needs communion, the intimate experience of conviviality that only food can provide.(2)

One of the greatest failures in my own personal life would have to be the way our family treats meals. Even when a full meal has been prepared, we tend to graze at will rather than sit down and share the meal. I grew up in a fast food nation. As a teenager and young adult, I ate most of my meals alone. A full, sit down meal was something we only had at holidays…Kind of strange how food as feast was associated with holy days.

Pleasure is natural to food and should always be present. Marsilio Ficino, the Renaissance magus who wrote about soul and food and friendship, was a moderate Epicurean. He understood well that deep and solid pleasures are a sign of soul. What he said about thinking could apply to food: “Thinking should always walk with pleasure, and maybe a little behind.” Give up the pleasures of food, and you stand a chance of losing its soul.

There is an old saying, “A person is what they eat.” I would say, “How a person eats reveals who he or she is.” Food can acquire soul through manners, style and ritual. It’s the difference between surviving and living, eating and dining, getting the essentials and living in a world of beauty and society.(2)

I always find Thomas Moore thought provoking. Whenever I feel the need to renew my soul, I am as apt to pick up one of his books as I am to walk out into the world of nature outside my door. As a matter of record, Thomas Moore’s books tend to reside in my bedroom bookcase far more than any other author…

Although the commodification of food is a global problem, its solution is local and personal. We can eat thoughtfully and moderately, with occasional and appropriate fasting and feasting. We can select our food to be consonant with our values, prepare it ourselves with pleasure and attention, and present it with an eye to beauty, natural religion and sensual delight. Then we might know the power of food to magically create intimacy, conviviality and community.(2)

And so go my musings on a mid-week morning…Started and fed by an email…

(1) Resurgence • Satish Kumar – Focus on Food.

(2) Resurgence • Thomas Moore – Food for the Soul.

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