Remember when food was just food? I don’t. But I try to imagine it sometimes. I grew up in the throes of fast food, Halloween candy, and plates of bacon at breakfast buffets only to learn that I was just another victim of the food processing industry. Food issues are fascinating if for no other reason that they instill a constant sense of humility.
It took me traveling to South America to realize that popcorn could be made on a stove rather than in a moist microwaveable package. It’s all very embarrassing.
But I am a human and his highly engineered crappy food is designed to appeal to that fallibility. Even our ethics shake under the heavy weight of our marketing friendly appetite. It’s no surprise that people would want to do something about the mess of factory farms, overfishing, and trans fats. Enter the ethical food lovers, farmers markets, food co-ops, and organic labeling. Enter, for instance, Jonathan Safran Foer’s latest book Eating Animals, which has turned actress Natalie Portman into a vegan activist and is just in time for Thanksgiving. Safran Foer’s book also sparked a week-long discussion about ethical eating at the Huffington Post, including Daniel Pauly’s piece on our love affair with fish.
With all this information about food, I have been compelled toward ambivalence. On the one hand, the issues are compelling and require large-scale change. On the other hand, the potential obsession about what we put in our bodies can lead to a sophisticated brand of narcissism.
To avoid becoming an eco-douchebag, an individual’s convictions about personal consumption and disapproval should really be expressed vertically up the supply chain (to chefs, store managers, and seafood suppliers) rather than simply laterally (consumer-to-consumer reproach). We should not engage only as consumers or peers but as citizens and activists and community members. It should not be about organic food for “me and my body” but for my community, my country, my planet. We should be demanding that things change.
That is why Alice Waters, in addition to being a chef, founded Edible Schoolyard. When Patricia Majluf didn’t like that anchovies in Peru were being wasted on fishmeal , she didn’t say: anchovies are tasty and I shall eat them. No — she got the entire country onboard. Imagine if the erudite HuffPolloi teamed up to demand Trader Joe’s stop buying unsustainable seafood? We are under siege by the most enticing, least expensive calories of all time and the way to combat them is vertical agitation.