What is Food For?

by hailtothenihilist

There is a very important question I feel we don’t ask ourselves often enough. “What is food for?” With the obesity rate at 63% now is a good time to start thinking about the answer.

Food is fuel. It allows us to function. But it has become much more than that. I think food as a social thing is great–it enriches our culture. However, other things have taken away from the importance of food as fuel and we now buy certain types of food over others for convenience and price. We want our food cheap and quick.

In the stimulating documentary, Food Inc., a young hispanic family share their plight of not being able to afford real food. They argue that it is cheaper to buy takeaway instead. All members of the family are overweight or obese. The problem in the US, which isn’t necessarily the case here in Australia, is that many of the components of fast food are highly subsidised by the government. It’s cheaper to produce food that relies on things like high-fructose corn syrup which is heavily subsidised than it is, say, lettuce or tomatoes.

Back in Australia, the quick-and-cheap mob are being pandered to as well. Amidst the price war between Coles and Woolworths things like milk and bread are being dropped to ridiculous levels. However, this price decrease is an illusion as produce prices remain steady. You may pay $1 for a carton of milk but that’s offset by the $3+ you pay for a listless-looking bunch of bok choy. People are led to believe that due to their buying power, the big two are cheaper across the board and that we mustn’t support small and independent as we’ll end up paying more. Wrong. I buy all of my produce from small, independent suppliers and pay much much less as a result.

I think food in our lives needs to be reconsidered. We need to push beyond it being this necessary burden. We need to spend more time thinking about it, making good decisions about it, and not buying the cheapest or most conveient. Do we make our decision to buy a new TV or car this way? No. These purchases usually occur after a thorough research period. We associate cheapness with poor quality. Why don’t we think about food this way? Worse still, we fall en mass for the marketing messages dispensed by the big processed food companies. What food writer Michael Pollan refers to as “edible food-like substances”.

We complain about having such busy lives nowadays but that’s our own doing. Our priorities are such that we work longer and harder. But we make concessions where it really matters. I don’t think food should be one of the things on the hit list. Perhaps TV time should take its place?

I’m glad for how things are heading. Farmers markets are popping up all over the place. Organic is becoming mainstream and cheaper. And more and more people are growing their own–they’re getting back to nature. This is all very romantic. We ought to ask ourselves why we are following these trends? Is it because they are trendy–the thing to do at the current time? Or is it because we have thought long and hard about what they stand for, and how they fit into the bigger picture?

Ask yourself: Is this bag of potatoes, frozen ready-meal or loaf of bread good enough to FUEL mine and my children’s bodies?