The Food Freak

Cooking, dining, and appreciating food through the written word. A young West-Coast food-lover has been displaced to numerous small towns and cities on the East Coast; in New Jersey, New England, and now the Hudson Valley. This is his story.

Monday, August 28, 2006

The Nation, On Food

Attending to the social, political, and ecological consequences of what you eat does not thereby render your food experiences devoid of pleasure. Freshmen in college literature classes often complain that the level of analysis they are forced to perform on a novel completely depletes them of their sense of pleasure in reading fiction. But of course literature students eventually grow to appreciate a novel when reading it in an intellectual way, whereas they only enjoy it when they read it purely viscerally. Enjoyment is fleeting, appreciation is far more robust.

The Food Issue of the Nation restates unfortunately familiar themes and facts about the ecology and economics of food production. Less of a focus, however, does it place on the culture of food consumption. We know that large amounts of agricultural subsidies keep the prices of unhealthy foods artificially low, the most environomentally damaging foods the most available ones, and healthy wholesome foods completely inaccessible. We know that such policies slowly lead to ill physical health among ourselves and, most frighteningly, our children. Such policies lead very quickly to ill ecological health. Finally, we know that it promotes a poor culture of food consumption, where most of our food is neither appreciated, nor enjoyed, but consumed and propagated like a narcotic.

Notably absent from the Nation is any mention of the class issues involved in the culture of food consumption. PBS once did a remarkably illuminating series on class in America in which they documented a community's attempt to turn an abandoned building into a food market. Competing for the space was a standard chain supermarket and a Co-op. At issue were 99 cent loaves of white bread, a symbol of the class issues involved at the local level. Poorer residents were up in arms protesting the Co-op. Co-ops no longer represent hippy-food shopping in American class culture, but rather yuppy-food shopping. A huge invisible class line outlines the Co-op, and even your Whole Foods and Wild Oats of America. The only specialty food store that I have seen break this class barrier is Trader Joe's, and only in its home-state of California do I see the class barrier virtually non-existent at its stores. (In general, California food shopping is much less class-segregated than the East Coast, a fact I think due to its ethnic diversity.)

I won't comment about the issue of class in food consumption now, but I think it will make a very good future issue of your favorite left-wing (or right-wing) magazine.

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