Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Fear of Food

We are afraid of our food. Let's face it: socially speaking, most of us never ever want to see our food while it is still walking around on two or four feet. Many of us would never want to slaughter a chicken and pluck its feathers out, or care for a hulking porker hell-bent on getting itself (and you) as dirty as possible. A lot of us probably wouldn't really care to sow and reap corn either, or pick string beans in the burning sun, or debug lettuce. I even know a kid who, when asked where milk comes from, said in reply in a “duh” sort of way: “The grocery store, of course!” In other words, he had no clue.

And yet, as someone who has engaged in almost all of the above food-production activities, I can tell you it really is fundamentally transformative of the way one looks at and respects food.

Most of us I would assume are used to buying our food pre-grown, pre-picked, pre-packaged, pre-canned, pre-frozen, and in all other ways pre-processed so that by the time we get the finished product, it sometimes barely resembles what it originally came from. Take ground beef, for example. It is in essence long pink mushy noodles. I can assure you the cow wouldn't even recognize it. Instant stuffing mix is another good example. Does it really look anything like the bread and spices it purportedly comes from? Not to me it doesn't.

Like I said, let's face it: for many Americans today, it is scary when our food production is too close to our food consumption. Somehow it is distasteful to have the chicken we will consume in the next couple of hours running around outside our home pecking for bugs. Or the cow we will grind into hamburger hanging around in a field nearby. Or it is distasteful that we would even think about working for the actual production of the food, like bending over in the hot sun picking beans. We should just be able to flash money and have our food delivered pre-everythinged.

Why should the production of food be so shameful? Why should everything we eat be approved by some government department, or be declared safe to eat by some higher power after many unhealthy chemicals are added, like homogenized milk? And, the most important question of all, why should somebody else produce all of the food we eat?

Food is one of the most wonderful things God gave us on this planet. In a way it is Earth's most abundant and most renewable resource. It grows and thrives and produces seed that will grow into next year's crop. It is an ever-renewing cycle of birth, fruition, nourishment, and replenishment, and it will continue for as long as the good Lord wishes it to. Unlike mined gold or silver, or any artificial thing man has devised for his own happiness, food has real worth. It nourishes our bodies, which allows for the flourishing of our minds. It brings us together for our meals, which promotes joyful community and cooperation. When a person owns the soil and the seeds, he in a way owns more of himself than the man who is rich with money. Money can only be used to trade for food; the man who has the means of producing the food needs nothing but work, rain and sunshine in order to eat.

The proper production of food also brings us closer to the world we live in, not to mention the God Who created it. Why would we abuse the soil and the air and the water, if all of us made our own food? It would be a far greater motivator to keep the planet a clean place than any tax incentive or government program. Also, there is nothing to compare to the sheer joy of growing and picking your own food. One of my favorite activities when I was younger was to pick apples in the autumn near sunset. It is a delicious feeling to reap the overabundance that seems to characterize all of God's creation. To loosely quote, one author wrote that God's indulgence is almost shameful when speaking about the amount of extra beauty and fruit this world produces.

We live in one of the most productive times in history when it comes to food, and yet most of the land in the United States that we tend to see are people's front yards. One of the most widespread “crops” in our country is grass. There is something wrong with that picture.

Let's not abuse our food, our planet, or ourselves. Let's not delude ourselves into thinking that our world should be a faraway place that we visit once in a while when we go picnicking. There is just as much beauty and goodness in nurturing the food we eat as there is in the preparing and the eating of it. Food is the truest work of human hands.

Let us not divorce our food from its beginning. Let us enjoy it from start to finish.

--Nick

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