Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Unhappy Meals, Unhappy Relationships

I know the title sounds like this post is going to be about getting fussy kids to eat at meal time; but it's not. Well, at least not in terms of parenting. It's about all of us eating poorly and forging bad relationships -- not only with food in addictive ways, either, as you'll see...

Over at Kitchen Preserve (where there are some great recipes!), I was reading Rebecca's "about" page where I found this incredible bit:

The writer Michael Pollan says that we should not “eat anything your great great-grandmother would not recognize as food.” Pollan means that we should eat whole, natural, unprocessed foods.  But specifically, what did our great great-grandmothers eat?  Do you know?  I wish I knew more details of my ancestor’s recipes–but unfortunately no one ever wrote much down.
(Rebecca should read more vintage and antique cookbooks, magazines and publications -- she'd likely be surprised!)

In Pollan's article, Unhappy Meals, the author explores the history behind our current bad diets. The article is long, but absolutely recommended reading. Today, this part sticks out:
No one likes to admit that his or her best efforts at understanding and solving a problem have actually made the problem worse, but that’s exactly what has happened in the case of nutritionism. Scientists operating with the best of intentions, using the best tools at their disposal, have taught us to look at food in a way that has diminished our pleasure in eating it while doing little or nothing to improve our health. Perhaps what we need now is a broader, less reductive view of what food is, one that is at once more ecological and cultural. What would happen, for example, if we were to start thinking about food as less of a thing and more of a relationship?

In nature, that is of course precisely what eating has always been: relationships among species in what we call food chains, or webs, that reach all the way down to the soil. Species co-evolve with the other species they eat, and very often a relationship of interdependence develops: I’ll feed you if you spread around my genes. A gradual process of mutual adaptation transforms something like an apple or a squash into a nutritious and tasty food for a hungry animal. Over time and through trial and error, the plant becomes tastier (and often more conspicuous) in order to gratify the animal’s needs and desires, while the animal gradually acquires whatever digestive tools (enzymes, etc.) are needed to make optimal use of the plant. Similarly, cow’s milk did not start out as a nutritious food for humans; in fact, it made them sick until humans who lived around cows evolved the ability to digest lactose as adults. This development proved much to the advantage of both the milk drinkers and the cows.
Clearly living off the land, near the land, with the earth, is better for all who live on it.

It's not just the extra work we do preparing our foods that keeps us fit (even more so when we garden and grow our own food) or that cooking our own food keeps more of the natural nutrients in our food than processed food-stuffs does, but that we build relationships. Relationships with the cycle of life, the planet and those who inhabit it with us, and relationships with those we spend time growing, preparing and eating with.

I don't think it's possible or advisable for us all to be farmers and produce (grow and raise) all that we eat.  But I do think we'd benefit from asking ourselves if what we are putting into our bodies could actually be something we could produce.

If not, we probably shouldn't be eating it.

Which reminds me, will you be watching Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution tonight?

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