Our dominant relationship to food seems to be as consumers. In our busy lives, there is little time for gathering food, cooking from scratch and thoughtfully reflecting on where our food comes from. The challenge with this approach is that it significantly undermines our capacity to establish a healthy food system, one based on taking care of the land, valuing those who grow our food and ensuring that everyone is able to eat nutritious food.
Looking at food as a mere commodity, like we would an ipod or a new television, significantly narrows the range of factors we consider when selecting what we want. Issues such as costs, efficiencies and conveniences take precedence. Concerns related to ways in which the produce is grown and whether farmers are being rewarded fairly for taking care of the land are less likely to enter into the equation. When food is seen through the prism of consumerism, access, sustainability and localism are left to the sidelines.
Food, however, is not a commodity to be consumed at the cheapest price. While it may be traded on the world markets as though it belongs in the same category as potash, cotton or petroleum, food stands on its own as a building block of life. Without food we simply can't exist. It provides us with the most intimate relationship with our environment.
When we weaken the link between food and commodity, we begin to acknowledge that food is not inert matter. It grows, from a fragile seed / egg and becomes a plant or animal filled with life. Feeding ourselves with this life energy is a unique relationship that cannot be reduced to a mere commercial relationship.
Cultivating a sense of reverence enables us to acknowledge this unique bond and provides us with the means to disrupt the patterns and practices that are now so embedded in our dominant food system. Once we no longer see food as simply a commodity but as a sustenance of life and community, we can re-evaluate our food choices and our food policies. We can recognize, for instance, that producers and farmers are key players in the well-being of our communities, our families and ourselves. We can also acknowledge how critical it is to ensure that everyone in our community is able to enjoy nutritious foods. Finally we can see how important it is for us to regain a strong sense of the rhythms or seasonality of food so that we can eat in harmony with our environment.
Celebrations and gatherings at this time of the year help me remember that we live in an interdependent web of life and that food is a central force in this web.