Why We Eat: Food is more than fuel, it’s a part of our identity

Why do we eat food?

Is it simply to sustain ourselves? Are we doomed to consume pre-packaged concoctions of calories and nutrients, carefully blended and flavourless, if we’re to reach our optimum level of health?

Or is there something more to what we eat?

Is it pleasure? Is it culture? Is it connection? Something more?

I believe food can be all of these things.

I also believe that is why it is so challenging, in our current, industrial food environment, to feel really connected to our food.

Our industrial food system strips these things away.

Centuries ago, our evening meal was something different. It was local. You knew the butcher, you hand-picked the vegetables from your garden, you raised the animals, your family cooked the food themselves. It was the story of your family, your culture, your status, your thoughts and feelings of the day – a microcosm in every meal.

Around the world, people would gather around their tables in rhythms dictated by the sun, by the labour of the day, by the seasons, and eat food that was local, sustainable, culturally and socially appropriate, and connected to who we are.

Today, we’ve outsourced our food production. We’re trying to recreate these stories on an industrial scale, and we’re failing.

A vacant stare at the evening news over a plate of frozen pizza.

One handful after another of flavourless potato chips, hollowly shoved into our mouths through so many hours of binge-watching Netflix.

Carefully prepped, “healthy” meals, in perfect bento-style packages, tucked in workplace refrigerators across the country and almost unnoticed as they’re eaten with one hand over keyboards, during meetings, on commutes.

These are the ways we eat now.

Empty, unfeeling calories, unceremoniously consumed, digested, and disposed of, while we wonder why – why do we have to eat? And why is it making us sick?

I propose a novel solution to our modern problems.

It isn’t about eating what our ancestors ate, nor is it about whole foods, nutrient content, low-carb, or low-fat, or any other diet program of the day.

I propose we do something simple:

We reconnect with our food.

Food is life. Literally every cell in your body contains some remnant of what you have consumed in your lifetime.

Everything we eat has a story, and when that story is manufactured in an industrial processing plant instead of our own kitchens – our cultures, our homes, our societies, our lives – we grow disconnected from it as a source of everything that we are.

To solve the problems of obesity, chronic disease, metabolic dysfunction, and more, we don’t need to eat anything special. We don’t need low-carb potato chips, or sugar-free soda, or grain-free bread.

We need to cook.

We need to shop for our own food. Carefully select the ingredients that resonate with us. Curate our own stories on our plates, and serve them to our families with love.

And we need to eat the cooking of others. Not corporations, but other people. Consume their stories. Eat their worlds. Become a part of their history, embedded in their memory as a time when they shared a part of themselves.

The food itself isn’t killing us, our lack of connection to it is. And the only way to regain that connection, at least for this writer, is to get back into the kitchen and write my own story.

————————————-

This post is in honour of the late, great Anthony Bourdain. Tony, you’ll never know me, but I knew you. We were both misfits who found our home in what we eat. You were and still are are one of the most influential writers of my life. You inspired me to believe that my words about food could change the world, that there is power in the way we talk about what we eat and the way it connects us. You are gone but not forgotten, and I am committed to carrying on your work – of connecting people to food, to cultures unknown, to the world, and to the real, lived experiences of others. May you rest in peace.