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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Perspective: What Food Means Pt. 1

"I wished the whole world was dead serious about food instead of silly rockets and machines and explosives using everybody's food money to blow their heads off anyway." -Jack Kerouac

There's something about this fact, there's always been something about this quote for me. I read it for the first time when I was fourteen years old and I was discovering (and consequently falling in love with) Jack Kerouac. It's from his novel Dharma Bums which is not as iconic as On The Road but is one of his many well-known and loved works. I remember thinking that this concept of food was revolutionary, in a way, despite being so...obvious. 

The thing about food is that, as a culture, we Americans seem to have an almost innate misunderstanding of it.  Every culture approaches food fact, it's one of those things that defines a society. Take the French, for example; internationally revered for their cuisine, not only because it is time-honored and delicious, but also because they take the time and the effort to enjoy it. By their lifestyles, the French show an appreciation for food and for the power of food, for the emotions that a meal can elicit, a respect for what they choose to imbibe. 

In contrast, Americans seem to view food as a necessary evil. We drive through the nearest fast-food joint in an effort to eat something that will leave us feeling "full" for the least amount of money necessary, often paying little attention to the nutritional value of that thing we just ordered, distracted too much by the $0.99 price tag. Do we consider what sort of meat must be in something for it to be only $0.99? Not as often as we should, clearly.

Consider the Kerouac quote...if all the money that was spent making bombs and guns and other things that were meant to hurt and kill people was instead redirected to the food supply...can you imagine how much the world would change? Would anyone ever go hungry? Absolutely not. Animals wouldn't need to be mistreated anymore because we would have the means to encourage sustainable, cruelty-free farming. We could take the scientists who's job it was to research bio-warfare and retrain them to research enriching our food supply. 

Clearly, this is idealistic and I understand that. But is there anything wrong with idealism in the first place? Ghandi was idealistic, Martin Luther King Jr. was idealistic...Many of the world's greatest minds have been dreamers and idealists. Perhaps most importantly, the world will never improve unless a lot of people dream, and unless their ideals are sought. 

There are studies coming out left and right about how many families in the United States aren't stable enough to know that, every day, they will have enough to eat. We are (for now) the richest country in the world and we still have hundreds of thousands of citizens who can't really be sure they will have enough food to last until payday. And yet we are fighting a war that never should have started and building a government in another country while paying them money to establish their own nuclear arms program. It's ludicrous. 

Food is one of our basic needs, in fact, one of the most basic. It's simply Maslow's hierarchy; we can't focus on bigger problems until these basic needs are met. Perhaps the reason why we are having so much trouble with diplomacy and politics and vitriol-spewing public figures and wars and weapons programs and national health and all these crazy things is that, at the heart of it all, there are hundreds of thousands of us that can't eat and hundreds of thousands of us being foreclosed and no one connects to anyone anymore except virtually which leaves the entire spectrum of our basic needs unmet. 

Food gets passed over but it's one of those things we really ought to be dead serious about. 

And in the end, being serious about food would and could change everything. Think about it. Food nourishes gives people life, brings people together, it makes people feel better. Food bridges every gap because we all need it and everybody loves it in some form or another. The lack of it is always negative, but no matter how much food we have, when we share it we are giving more than just nourishment...we are giving warmth and love. Food is unique in that it can inspire so very much, even in very small supply. 

In the end, I can't say this better than Kerouac...but consider that he wrote that book over fifty years ago and that lesson, that dream, that ideal has yet to be realized at all. In fact, we've gone so far the opposite direction that it seems we might never be able to pull back. And yet the power is, and always has been, in the hands of the people. If we take up our dreams and our ideals peacefully, and yet with great conviction, anything can happen. It could begin with making sure that no one in this country went hungry, and extend in ways we can't predict or imagine. 

The Calm Cook


  1. Hi Calm Cook,
    I'm wondering, is it our Mind which can't cope up with the changes of environment and that makes us anxiety? Is not the food that causes us anxiety. However, the substances in food which may help to reduce anxiety.... Well, could you further explain what are the relationship between food and the causes of one's anxiety.... I'm sort of confusing.

  2. Hello Georgia!

    That's a very good question. Anxiety is a different thing for each person who suffers from it. It can be caused by brain chemistry, environment, trauma, genetics, hormones, and diet...and probably other things. I am not a doctor, but I will tell you what I know.

    Your brain, like the rest of your body, can not function correctly if it isn't getting the proper nutrition. Therefore, if you aren't eating healthfully, your brain/body will have more difficulty coping with anxiety, which in turn can and will exacerbate your symptoms. Eating the proper nutrition and in the proper portions can help your body and brain function better on a physiological/physical level, and thereby make it easier to cope with anxiety.

    I always recommend diet, exercise, and therapy to deal with anxiety disorders...I'm not a doctor. But I am someone who has lived with an anxiety disorder for quite awhile, and who recently learned to manage it through diet and lifestyle...and with the help of a therapist.

    Think of it this an automobile, if you neglect to change the oil and the oil is all sludgy and dirty, your car doesn't run very efficiently. If you let the issue go for too long, eventually the engine will burn up or suffer other serious issues. You mind is similar...if all it has to work with are processed foods and junk foods and not enough of the good stuff, it wont work very well, will it? Eating an anti-anxiety diet probably wont cure your anxiety, however, it is one of the tools you can use to manage anxiety and live a better life.

    Let me know if you have any additional questions!