My recent obsession with all things diet has finally led me to consider a philosophy of food. Philosophers are quick to point out that food has been a topic for thinkers since the dawn of civilization. Plato included diet recommendations in his teachings and the Old Testament has some very specific dietary restrictions for followers of the one true God. More fundamentally, cuisine is one of the pillars of culture, along with language, dress, and ceremony.
How to build a consistent framework around food, food preparation, and eating? Where to start with my philosophy around food? What ethical guidance do I use to make food choices? Whatever I end up with needs to be more inclusive than just what to eat and when to eat it. It needs to consider how my food choices affect others – not only the source of my food but other eaters. How do my food choices affect the health and food security of others?
When pressed, I would say my philosophy around eating is something like the guidance offered by Michael Pollen in his book In Defense of Food, “Eat food, mostly plants, not too much.” That spells out a path for my personal health, but it does not directly address how my eating habits affect others and the planet. I have taken some time to examine transport and packaging around my food, the less fossil fuel involved the better, but what about the people who grow and harvest my food? Or those that process and prepare it when I am too busy to do it myself ?
One portal for uncovering a philosophy of food is be thankful for all the people that provide our food and drink. A.J. Jacobs, the author of A Year of Living Biblically and other books where he challenges himself to undertake a new way of living or eating, has a new book titled Thanks a Thousand where he recounts his journey to personally thank the thousands of people involved in preparing his morning cup of coffee. You can find a summary of this adventure in a TED talk at: (https://www. ted.com/talks/aj_jacobs_my_journey_ to_thank_all_the_people_responsible_ for_my_morning_coffee). His trail of thanks, as he calls it, involved thousands of people from the barista who prepares his morning cup of joe to the brothers in Colombia that grow the coffee beans to the folks that operate the New York reservoir that sources the water. Along the way, Jacobs summarized his approach to gratitude with a few guiding actions such as:
- “Look up” and see the person serving you the food. In Jacobs’ example, it is looking up from his phone to meet the eyes of the barista or cashier serving his coffee. It is important to notice the person behind the food experience whether that is the produce manager at the local grocery store, the butcher, or the baker. Look up and greet and thank the people that provide your food.
- “Smell the dirt”. Take the time to understand and experience the details, dirt, plants, trees, and places that are involved in growing, processing, and preparing your food.
- “Find the hidden masterpieces all around you” or notice the small details. In Jacobs’ case the ingenious coffee cup lid that allows the drinker to get a good whiff of the coffee he/she is drinking. Take the time to notice the plate, food preparation, design of packaging, or even the dining room that enhances the enjoyment of your food.
While, I am not nearly as ambitious as Jacobs, I believe that his guiding words will help me become more mindful of food. One area where I am currently evaluating my eating habits is in the category of meat.
Should I eat meat? If so, are there some meats that are better than others? Red meat versus white meat. As an angler, I know that fish, particularly salmon, bleed just as red as any other animal when I clean them. Why are fish the exception to the red meat rule? Wild game compared to domestic beef. The Old Testaments says you shouldn’t eat pork. (Is bacon included with that?) What is my justification that local meat, whether wild or domestic, is better than meat from outside my local area?
I guess it comes down to that fact that I can look the grower and the processor in the eye and say thank you without purchasing a plane ticket. If I buy local, I can personally express my appreciation for the care and love that they put into every bite of meat, veg, fruit, and grain that I put in my mouth. Tis a privilege to live in Southwest Colorado.
Carolyn Dunmire gardens, cooks and writes in Cahone, Colo.