Good Wednesday afternoon, everyone! I’ve decided to share with you my post from The Breakfast Blog today, and feel free to check out yesterday’s post on the immeasurable value of creativity. Have a wonderful day!
“There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.” ― Mahatma Gandhi
For too many people, hunger and limited or restricted access to clean drinking water are daily realities. Realities that, in a world where just as many suffer from the physical and spiritual afflictions of over-consumption–of all manner of superfluous material goods–constitute some of the most tragic and disgraceful injustices of modern society. Poverty and starvation are cruelties of the most abominable kind.
“Whenever we engage in consumption or production patterns which take more than we need, we are engaging in violence.” — Vandana Shiva
I remember the first time that I, a relatively care-free (read: oblivious), middle-class white woman from the cozy suburbs of Northeastern Pennsylvania, walked into a large chain grocery store in one of Houston’s poorer, largely Hispanic neighborhoods. I was aghast at what I saw. Moldy, half-rotten produce. Bugs. And shelves upon shelves of highly-processed foods. There was no “Health Foods” section. No place to buy fresh, organic foods. Not only did I leave the store empty-handed (because I refused to consume any of the items sold there), but I also left with a horrible, gnawing feeling in the pit of my stomach.
“…The real cause of hunger is a scarcity of justice, not a scarcity of food. Enough grain is squandered every day in raising American livestock for meat to provide every human being on earth with two loaves of bread.” — John Robbins
There is something about observing first-hand the inequality of access to clean, healthy food that troubles me very, very deeply. And, to be sure, there is something about witnessing elitist forms of self-indulgence and conscious displays of over-comsumption that likewise repulses me. Experiences like the one I just described have led me to do a lot of research and a great deal of reflection on the role of food in contemporary culture. On the ways in which we use and misuse our greatest, life-promoting resources. And on Western society’s preoccupation with “healthy,” “natural,” and “organic” forms of subsistence.
If you’ve visited either of my blogs before, you know that I am extremely passionate about the pursuit of healthy, nonviolent living. I eat a balanced vegan diet, consisting of organic foods whenever possible. And there are times when I’ve wondered if my food choices make me come across to others as a “purist” or “elitist,” as some kind of uppity white chick whose biggest problem is whether or not the apples in her fruit bowl are all locally grown. (Oh, if only that was my biggest problem!)
The fact is, I eat the way I do because of how strongly I feel about 1.) the exploitation of nonhuman animals, 2.) the exploitation of other human beings, and 3.) violence, generally, whether it is directed at other living beings, the whole of nature, or turned inward and inflicted upon the self.
Food is deeply connected to my sense of personal power. Ethical veganism, for me, is an action–not simply a refusal to consume certain goods, but a move toward creating the kind of change I would like to see in the world.
When we make significant dietary changes and take full responsibility for what we eat, we assert control over our bodies. And is that one of the most significant reasons Westerners are so preoccupied with consuming “healthy,” “natural,” and otherwise unadulterated foods? I’ve pondered this question a number of times.
“Remember, too, that at a time when people are very concerned with their health and its relationship to what they eat, we have handed over the responsibility for our nourishment to faceless corporations.” — Lynne Rossetto Kasper
After all, through our food choices, we either accept or reject certain tenets, ideologies, or social practices. For example, for many, saying, “I am vegan” is synonymous with, “I am nonviolent.” It can also be, in some cases, a partial (or total, I suppose) rejection of consumer culture. And for some, especially women and/or people of color, vegetarianism and veganism represent a rejection of hierarchies–of a social order that promotes sexism, racism, and other forms of oppression. (This post is already getting long, so I’ll spare you the theoretical details on the connections between meat-eating, sexism, racism, ableism, etc., but if you’re interested, check out Carol J. Adams’s blog. Her work is brilliant, and she’s written extensively on the topic.)
But what of “healthy” eating fads? It’s an intriguing phenomenon and one that, I propose, is intimately tied to a desire to heal ourselves through food. And the first step in healing ourselves is to reclaim control over our own bodies.
“The joy is that we can take back our bodies, reclaim our health, and restore ourselves to balance. We can take power over what and how we eat. We can rejuvenate and recharge ourselves, bringing healing to the wounds we carry inside us, and bringing to fuller life the wonderful person that each of us can be.” — John Robbins
We shun processed foods not only because we don’t want their artificial ingredients to make us sick, but I believe, because we want to feel we have a greater sense of control over ourselves, our lives, as reflected in our appetites. The food industry has become foe in America because not only because its manufacturing processes raise public health concerns, but also because more and more Americans are using food as a way to restore their bodies to a more peaceful, more natural, holistic state. One that is not strapped by convention.
“Appetite has really become an artificial and abnormal thing, having taken the place of true hunger, which alone is natural. The one is a sign of bondage but the other, of freedom.” — Paul Brunton
I wrote yesterday about the ways in which our jobs and other daily responsibilities “busy” us, keeping us in a fairly constant state of stress and motion that zaps our creativity. In doing so, they make us increasingly dependent on the systems that tie us to those routines, but they also serve to divide us. From one another and from ourselves.
And guess what? It’s reflected in our health.
“Surgeons can cut out everything except cause.” — Herbert M. Shelton
“Connection is health. And what our society does its best to disguise from us is how ordinary, how commonly attainable, health is. We lose our health – and create profitable diseases and dependences – by failing to see the direct connections between living and eating, eating and working, working and loving. In gardening, for instance, one works with the body to feed the body. The work, if it is knowledgeable, makes for excellent food. And it makes one hungry. The work thus makes eating both nourishing and joyful, not consumptive, and keeps the eater from getting fat and weak. This is health, wholeness, a source of delight. “ — Wendell Berry
Intuitively, I think most of us–if not all of us–already know this. We can feel when something is draining the life from us. When anxiety, depression, and feelings of restlessness start taking over our lives. When we feel like we’ve lost control. When those emotional and spiritual ills begin inscribing themselves on our bodies, and the urge to feel healed–to feel whole–becomes so immense that we make drastic changes to our eating, exercise, and other health habits in order to regain balance and locate our deepest sources of personal power.
“It’s no coincidence that four of the six letters in health are ‘heal.’” — Ed Northstrum
So, can food heal us? Do our dietary choices actually make us more powerful human beings? I think they can. In a world where personal food choices (or lack thereof) and access to quality foods are inextricably bound to political and economic factors, food becomes a statement of identity. To make kind, compassionate, nurturing food choices, for example, can not only promote feelings of good health, well-being, and inner tranquility, but they can also make us feel stronger. And in choosing to eat “clean,” “natural,” “sustainable,” “organic,” and/or “vegan” foods, we instinctively attempt to draw ourselves further away from the tyranny of large, faceless corporations and forge more intimate connections with the rest of the natural world, where we hope rejuvenate ourselves. And certainly, the better we are at loving and respecting ourselves, the more powerful we each will become. And the kinder and gentler a place our world has the potential to be.
“Progress does not have to be patented to be worthwhile. Progress can also be measured by our interactions with nature and its preservation. Can we teach children to look at a flower and see all the things it represents: beauty, the health of an ecosystem, and the potential for healing? “ — Richard Louv