Food: Pleasure, Politics and Community

Thursday, 24 September 2009 02:04 Alice Leung
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Sometimes we come across the same thing or person at different points of our lives and have experiences that totally change our outlook towards them. I’ve come to find that my connection with food has been that way. I grew up in a family that loves to eat. Food was abundant, a commodity that was readily available…and I was never a picky eater. It was a wonderful blend of home cooking, eating out, junk food-whatever that particular time and occasion permitted. Food, for the most part of my life, brought me a wonderful, but one-dimensional experience of pleasure.

Then I took the red pill. My association of comfort and pleasure towards food was gradually muddled with the crude realities of our industrialized agriculture system. Just to share a few things I’ve learned about what it all means. It barely scratches the surface of the far-reaching effects that the food industry has. Everything from what we ingest through CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feed Operations) lots-a mess of animals, dead and alive, feed, and waste, to petroleum-based fertilizers and run off wastes that pollute our waters, diseases that result from monocultures and the indiscriminant use of pesticides, and policies that promote cheap corn and build the backbone of our fast food diet.

There was no turning back now. I couldn’t eat the prime rib, fried chicken and ribs that I thoroughly enjoyed knowing the price that was paid for it and what was REALLY going into my body. I decided to stop eating CAFO meat and certain produce as my first steps toward sustainability. It was an awakening experience, but also one that took away the pleasures of food without providing an alternative. There was something missing in my food experience, and I felt left hanging.

I recently attended the Chefs Collaborative National Summit in Chicago. The Collaborative is a network of chefs committed to fostering a sustainable food system. They advocate for sustainable food in the greater culinary community, provide other chefs the information and tools to source sustainable ingredients and connect chefs to sustainable food producers. My take-away from the summit was the connection that food brings through its production, preparation and consumption. I met the growers who brought the fresh ingredients, chefs who prepared and served the food and fellow food enthusiasts who enjoyed the food with me. There was care, connection and pride that permeated throughout the process, but not at the expense of taste and experience. I think I finally found the third leg to my food stool: pleasure, politics and community.