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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.

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