Food, wonderful, glorious food. Few things can be as rewarding as the perfect meal. But eating is not as simple as it once as we have become more conscious of what choices we make with every bite. And as we become more conscious, with every meal comes questions. For instance, will you worry if the food you are about to eat is healthy and safe this Thanksgiving? Perhaps you will worry that the guests at your table will have food rules that will stop them from eating or enjoying the food you prepared. Or you might worry that the food on your table came at the cost of harm to the planet.
Thanksgiving, a favorite holiday of my childhood, had all the fun of a holiday party yet seemed the most easygoing of all holidays. But it doesn’t seem to me to be so easygoing any more.
How did eating become so complicated? Food is designed to be a pleasure as well as a necessity. It’s purpose is to bring energy, to build strong bodies and good health, and hopefully, to share joy.
My maternal grandmother knew food as a pleasure as well as a necessity. In my grandmother’s generation all food was local, all food was seasonal, and all food was organic.
Family lore has it that my grandmother was working in the fields on her family’s farm when a man came by on horseback. She gave him a drink of water, they exchanged pleasantries, and before he left he said, “I’ll be back. Please wait for me.” They were married in the old country. He came to America and she and the first six of their nine children came later, so eleven was the standard number for dinner. Often, there were guests. My grandfather loved good conversation and good music. If he met someone who could add to the conversation at the table or who could join him after dinner in playing the violin, he invited that person home to dinner.
My grandmother loved my grandfather, loved that he brought educated and talented people to her table, and loved music. Her challenge was to provide enough to eat for everyone who sat down.
It goes without saying that the most important quality of any feast table is the love and care of the people at the table for one another. It also goes without saying that food and memory are intertwined, memories of our mother’s kitchens, memories of our favorite foods, memories of loved ones around the table.
Now food is about so much more than nutrition and memory.
Every time we pick up our forks we make a choice for our health, a choice for the health of our community, and a choice for the health of the planet. Even the choice not to think about it, is a choice.
The first thought is often for health. Are the fruits and vegetables I’m eating organic? Do I have to worry about chemical pesticides that present health risks? Was the meat or poultry farmed or does it contain hormones and antibiotics that present health risks?
The second thought is often for the health of the community and the planet. Is this food local? Did getting it to my table contribute to the carbon footprint? Did chemical pesticides leach into the water table and harm the water supply? Did chemical pesticides get into our rivers and lakes and harm the aquatic life? Was the food on my table sustainably farmed, not only for my health, but also for the health of my community and the planet?
How do we answer these questions? Fortunately, information is everywhere today. In “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” Michael Pollan takes us through the origins of four meals, our choices, and how we got to today’s food dilemma. Building on the work of her mother, American food guru, Frances Moore Lappe, Anna Lappe’s new book is “Diet for a Hot Planet: The Climate Crisis at the End of Your Fork and What You Can Do About It.” The New York Times magazine devoted the Oct. 10 issue to “Eating Together” in praise of the sharing of community that has been created as an unintended, but welcome benefit of the organic, sustainable, local food movement. Magazines in every part of our country, such as Vermont’s “Local Banquet”, Washington DC’s “Flavor,” and Martha Stewart’s “body + soul”, cajole and entice us to give thought to our food, our health, the health of our communities, and the health of the planet.
We have much to be grateful for and much to think about as we give our thanks this year for family and friends and life. Let us also give thought for food.
What Say You?