By Dr Sarah Lantz
We arrive on this planet brand spanking new, and, let’s be honest, looking a little inebriated, but, without so much as a moment to collect ourselves and settle into our new anatomy, we are innately struck by an internal and universal inferno, a deep primal urge that will last as long as we are on this planet and will propel us on an implacable hunt: hunger, cravings – food. We need to be fed, and urgently. For that tiny specimen of our earliest self, food is our first experience for both that fundamental human need for survival and the human emotion of love. This is the integral thread that connects us all as growing and feeling human beings. In all of us is a carnal appetite – we must eat to live – and as food enters the body, it literally becomes part of us. It embodies the body so to speak, and in doing so, tells to us a story about how the body responds, feels and lives out the food we consume.
Ultimately, whatever we eat or drink becomes our flesh, our bones, blood, skin, cells, hair, eyelashes, and toenails. We have up to 100 trillion cells in our bodies, each one demanding attention and a constant supply of nutrients in order to optimally function. The food we consume affects all of these cells, and by extension, every aspect of our being: mood, energy levels, cravings, thinking capacity, hormones, sleeping habits and general health. Also, consider that every cell in our body has a ‘shelf life’ and is in a constant regenerative process. A stomach cell lives about a day or two. A red blood cell about four months. Skin replaces itself every 35 days. The liver replaces itself every six months and our bones, every 10 years. Every day then, our body is diligently making new cells to replace those that have ‘retired’. As the old adage reminds us, ‘you are what you eat’, and over a lifetime, humans consume 100 tonnes of food, which is roughly the size of a small football oval and around 90,000 meals (give or take a few). That’s a lot of food.
Given the significance, and enormity, of this task, surely the quality of our food must be high on the agenda for us humans – it’s a fairly simple premise. For many Australian’s though, this is not necessarily so. Farmer and ecologist Wendell Berry’s now-famous formulation that ‘eating is an agricultural act’ is perhaps the original signpost for thinking about how we do food in our everyday lives. Yet for most Australian eaters these days, food is still considered a thing – out there, somewhere, in the country or factory or food lab… somewhere. Most Australian’s still do not think of themselves as active participants in the agricultural world. We think of ourselves as outside of agriculture, as passive and dependent consumers of foodstuffs.
To escape, or redefine the traditional role of passive consumer has always been an important aspiration of the organic’s movement. In various ways it seeks to place the relationship between consumers and producers on a more neighbourly footing, enriching the kinds of information exchanged in the transaction, and encouraging us to regard our food dollars as ‘votes’ for a different kind of agriculture, a kinder form, and, by implication, a kinder economy. The modern marketplace would have us decide what to buy strictly on the basis of price and self-interest; the organic food movement implicitly proposes that we expand our understanding of both those terms, suggesting that not just ‘good value’ but ethical and political values should inform our buying decisions, and that we’ll ultimately get more satisfaction from our eating when they do.
In this, there is a kind of politics happening as we get to decide three times a day what we take into our bodies. As Michael Pollan points out, food is about citizenship, and kitchens are the vital link between field, plate and the economy. With every bite we are making a choice of not only recovering our bodies and our health, but through food, we discover a broad web of connections that exists across everything on the planet – plants and animals, soil, farmers, microbes, the economy, and ultimately the environment. As the James Beard Award-winning author Sandor Katz argues, “Reclaiming our food and our participation in cultivation is a means of cultural revival, taking action to break out of the confining and infantilising dependency of the role of consumer (user), and taking back our dignity and power by becoming producers and creators.”
And let’s not forget the rallying points of the global Slow Food Movement which not only focuses on eating organically, seasonally, protecting regional cuisines, reinstating the ritual of family dining and educating children’s palates but, Slow Food is about taking the time to enjoy a meal, a kind of meditation and appreciation on the human value of pleasure which can be an anchor of one’s humanity.
Its manifesto states: “A firm defence of quiet material pleasure is the only way to oppose the universal folly of Fast Life… Our defence should begin at the table with Slow Food. Let us rediscover the flavours and savours of regional cooking.”
It is appropriate, then, that the movement’s symbol is a snail; ‘a talisman against speed’. Don’t rush. What it values is Tempo Giusto…the right time.
Dr Sarah Lantz (PhD)
Buchi Brew Co. & Sacred Women’s Way