Saturday, January 01, 2011


There was a teaser headline on a Newsweek cover (yes, my wife had been down to see her father again, returning with issues of Time and Newsweek. But there are also Smithsonian's thrown in) about food wars in our culture. I wondered if this were the article there was such a fuss about a month ago - it was. The author, Lisa Miller was relating tales of the differences in the way parts of our culture looks at food, including one about her friend who, when visiting her mother, went out and bought different apples, even though there were already apples in the house. Organic apples. Locally grown apples. Her mother was insulted, saying "we don't tell you what to buy when we come to your house." The daughter was also quoted as saying that all her buying locally and organically was her family's charity, helping the earth. "And we give a lot."

My first instinct was to side pretty strongly with mom on this one. I thought it was jaw-dropping rudeness, and for Ms. Miller to quote her friend as simply a rather strong example of one side of a debate struck me as dizzy. And as for food-buying as charity, I thought that stretched the definition pretty far.

Yet I don't know if that opinion is going to hold up in the future. Were it a religious dietary requirement, we crossed over long ago into thinking it would be the hostess who was rude (if she knew, of course. Though asking about such things is more and more required). Respecting vegetarian wishes has come later, though I think that is pretty squarely in the host's lap at this point. Not quite a religious choice in most cases, but often one based on a morality as much as nutritional considerations. Is feeling strongly about the morality of where food comes from and how it is grown that different? It is now, in impression, but is it logically that different? For a narrow group of people, they think it is clearly similar. My impression that such choices do not rise to the level of morality pretty obviously derives from my view that I think their ideas silly.

Additionally, their idea that they are a growing movement, and where the culture is going to go as soon as it gets enlightened, may influence my impression. I find that both self-deluding and conceited. Yet I don't know the future any better than they do, and who knows what will be generally accepted in the culture in 30 years?


Anna said...

I for one am crossing my fingers that this food fad passes, or rather goes into the dustbin of old ideas now only followed by gone-to-seed hippies. Ever heard of "fruitarians", people who only eat stuff that died a natural death?

Eventually it gets ridiculous, where do we draw the line about food accommodations? "I only eat fair-trade organic homeopathic probiotic mung bean sprouts that died naturally." Why even invite people like that over?

Rachel Ray (the chef) is pretty open about hating picky eaters and says that she deals with them by not inviting them over.

Jan said...

One of my objections to such food fads is that "organic" is pretty much a marketing tool, not anything of substance. I work for a federal agency where produce is tested for pesticide residues, and stuff labeled as "organic" has the exact same failure rate as regular produce.

As for "Fair Trade" it certainly seems fair from the perspective of Western proponents of it, but it's full of the kind of meaningless buzz-words that make you feel better about something without actually doing anything concrete. This makes me very suspicious of it until I see some hard data demonstrating that the lives of poor farmers has been improved by it.

Dubbahdee said...

I have come to view this sort of thing as merely another example of our inherent tendency to try to make a religion out of most anything. Here we have all the basis of religion; creed, cult and catholicity.

Creed in this case consists of the beliefs about the nature of food and the value of doing food in certain ways but not others. In this case, the idea that we (and by extension the world) can be saved if we would just eat right.

Cult is the aura of rituals and customs that develops. What food? Where we buy it. How we prepare it, and apparently who we share it with.

Catholicity refers to the universal nature of it. Everyone eats, so everyone must be part of the one true church.

This filter has been very helpful to me - especially as I try to root out religion in my own life, asking Jesus to replace it with resurrection.