So I’ve Been Thinking about…Things (Food)

3 Oct


(I was writing recently and wanted to define what a “thing” is and further wanted to reduce my need for “things” down to the most basic necessity one needs for survival.  This is what emerged.)

A thing is an object of material substance generally considered useful.  Things can be utilitarian (their use is born out of necessity; serving a specific purpose and/or accomplishing a particular task) or they can be non-utilitarian (born out of the desire to consume, possess, or amass belongings, a luxury).

As I write it is my intent to discover for myself the things essential to my existence (ie: without which sustaining life would be impossible).  The most basic, most essential thing, that is both useful & necessary, is food & water.  Human beings must consume food and water to sustain their bodies with the minimal nutrition required for survival.

As a thing, food can be, as earlier defined, utilitarian or non-utilitarian.  Science teaches us that the typical human being needs a certain caloric intake on a daily basis to promote survival and in order to thrive and maintain basic health & well-being.  Eating foods that accomplish this minimal requirement would describe a person who has a utilitarian relationship to food.

Anyone who eats food for any purpose other than basic health and well-being has a relationship to food that is non-utilitarian.  Tastes, preferences, and quality of food served are all luxuries and not strictly utilitarian.

I must confess that my own attitudes about food are not always utilitarian.  I like foods bursting with flavor.  I like purchasing quality foods.  I enjoy making interesting dishes both tasteful to the palate and aesthetically appealing.  In confessing these things I am not admitting that these attitudes and practices are bad, but they are revealing.

What do my attitudes about food reveal?  They reveal a particular socio-economic bias that is not shared by people the world round, nor even within a fairly tight geographical radius of the place I live.  My relationship to food has been utterly shaped by and provides clear commentary on my access to food (ie: grocery stores bursting with options and the financial capacity to pay for it).  Again this is simply stating a factual reality it is not meant as a value judgement, per se.

Though, in reality, vast segments of the human population would find my definition of a utilitarian relationship to food a luxury in that their access to food and water, as basic necessities for survival and well-being, are routinely impeded by the political and economic realities present in the places they happen to originate from.  Recent statistics show that 805 million people are estimated to be chronically undernourished in 2012–14 (source: U.S. FAO, September 2014).

This reality should impose on each of us a requisite period of reflection to consider our own relationship to food.  Allow me to suggest some questions for consideration: How do I view food?  What are my attitudes about food?  Do I feel I am entitled to certain types of food that others may not, at no fault of their own, have access to?  Do I care about this issue only for myself or am I aware of the need for food as an issue of justice & basic human equality?  Should governments get involved in international situations where people groups are suffering because of a lack of access to the food necessary for their basic survival and well-being?  Am I willing to have less so others can have more?

Food is a physical and communal necessity for every person everywhere.  It is an unavoidable necessity but one’s relationship to and attitudes about food (this thing we literally cannot live without) have global justice implications we often ignore, not wantonly, rather simply by omitting from our consideration the need others have for it on an equal basis.

The simple act of writing this piece has prompted me to action.  I am researching my community’s resources for people who are food insecure and striving to have a more robust understanding of the issue of food insecurity within my local context.  I am considering ways that I might get involved in serving the needs of those local resources and the individuals they serve.  Further, I am embarking on a process of intense personal reflection as it relates to my own food related attitudes and biases.

It is my hope that in some way, however small, reading this might prompt you to evaluate your own food attitudes & biases and likewise help you evaluate your role in addressing the local and global justice issues surrounding this “thing” we call food.

8 Responses to “So I’ve Been Thinking about…Things (Food)”

  1. Hollis Hildebrand-Mills October 3, 2014 at 5:40 pm #

    Eli, an excellent post. I have always had a place in my heart for the homeless. But even I am not as aware as I should be about hunger. Which I know to be a serious problem even in this country.

    BTW, with all due respect and for those reading this, this has nothing to do with the seriousness of Eli’s post, according to Hubby (read my answer to your cheesecake bend), you probably like cherries! 🙂 The other parts fit too! What is it about the “Pie o logist”? Who am I married to?


    • said-simply October 3, 2014 at 5:53 pm #

      Hollis, thanks for taking time to read my post and for your comment. I had space to write and voila I wound up in a place I hadn’t expected but am thankful for because it has inspired me big time to quit taking food for granted and to learn about how important this issue is locally and globally.

      As for the second half of your comment I went back over to your site and had a chance to interact with your reply to my comment. You guys are onto something with this “Pie-o-logy.” 🙂


  2. mistermuse October 7, 2014 at 3:40 pm #

    As much as I like this post and your point of view in general, I think it’s too simplistic to break things down into either essential or non-essential. Where does this leave such “things” as (for example) good books by great writers, and other mind/soul-enriching preferences? Like many other issues which divide people, insisting on either a black or white answer is really a shallow value which demands deeper thought.


    • docrichie October 7, 2014 at 6:18 pm #

      As someone who likes best the very simplest of food, I have no great view except that I love the concept of the ‘chewing grace’ (as espoused by Aldous Huxley in his book ‘Island’ where instead of thanking God, you think and thank the people who brought that food to your table. But, more importantly, like the inspring art produced by soldiers underground in France in WWI, I believe that Art IS an ‘essential’ so would extend this to “good books by great writers”. Art is essential for civilised human sanity (in my opinion).


      • said-simply October 7, 2014 at 8:02 pm #

        Docrichie, thanks for your comment. I appreciate what you shared about “chewing grace” there is a human component there that we often fail to acknowledge when enjoying the foods we eat. Some farmer somewhere had to work hard to produce this food I’m eating and I should think about that effort and work and express gratitude for it.

        I in no way disagree with what you are saying about art or literature. Art is essential for civilized “human sanity” in every way, but my point is that hungry people who are endlessly insecure about their next meal have a hard time focusing beyond the pain of their hunger to other great pursuits. But at the same time, I recognize how art can be an outlet for the expression of pain and human suffering.

        You have triggered me to wider consideration of this issue and I’m grateful you took the time to read and comment. When we engage these issues together I am convinced we grow as people and I want to learn from every interaction like this, it is essential for my growth as a person.


    • said-simply October 7, 2014 at 7:54 pm #

      First let me thank you for your thought provoking comment. I appreciate that you read what I wrote and are interacting with it in an informed and thoughtful way. Second, in no way would I disagree with you that reducing things down to essential/non-essential does not always apply.

      By suggesting that food is an essential necessity for human survival and to challenge people to evaluate their attitudes and presumptions about food is meant to trigger people to consider the impact of their attitudes and actions as it relates to others.

      I have difficulty understanding how challenging presumptions and attitudes that have social, economic, political, and global justice implications can lead to the notion that since art and great literature could be viewed as non-essentials they are less important to the development of the whole person. Honestly, quite the opposite.

      If people lack access, in an equitable way, to the basic necessities of life I believe their ability to engage in life in the fullest sense (by exploring their creative impulses, by caring to read great literature, or to appreciate the artistic endeavors of others) is stunted if not halted altogether. When people are so hungry that food and survival is all they can think about then their wider potential is left untapped.


  3. mistermuse October 7, 2014 at 9:22 pm #

    Well said.


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