We are not autonomous beings.
We remain completely and unequivocally reliant on something outside of our own bodies, on living things, in order to survive.
We depend everyday on this broadest of categories, on “food”, for the energy to fall asleep at night, and to be able to wake up in the morning. We depend on food to drive to work. To go for a run. To give someone a hug. To tie our shoes and run up the stairs and fire the neurons that allow us to read the words on this page… we simply have to eat.
If we want proof that our very existence depends on the sun above our heads and the earth beneath our feet, we have no further to look than the apple sitting beside my computer as I type this. If we want evidence that we are not the separate beings that we are conditioned to think that we are, that we cannot walk this world alone…we have only to gaze at the food on our plate.
It important to stop and consider, for a brief moment, the three times a day when we let the world inside. It is valuable to acknowledge the daily moments when we are our most vulnerable and exposed and permeable to life. When we open our mouths and consume what was once living in order to continue doing so.
We live as light energy transformed into arms and legs and the ability to think and breathe and run. We are part of a cycle of chemical equations and mechanical motion. We live in an interconnected and interdependent universe of energy transfer and change.
Our existence is more than this though I think, and food is more than this. It is emotional too, and eating is a mental experience as much as a physical one. Eating remains one of the few ways to really reconnect. It is a chance to recognize the reality of our earth, the frailty of our existence, the tenuousness relationship between our dinner and the sun and the rain. And that relationship is real. Any farmer will tell you this.
It is an undeniable fact that what we eat has an effect on the world, and it has an effect on the people that we share this world with, and it has an effect on us. I think that in many ways the current food system has made it a choice to acknowledge this consciously or not. Or maybe it has removed the mechanisms that allow us to really understand it.
I am watching the ways in which we relate to our food change. The ways in which we grow our food, the ways in which we raise it, the ways in which we eat it, and appreciate it, and share it no longer look the same as they once did.
To take the life of an animal, to watch it die, to realize that you are responsible for its death is a profound experience. To recognize that you have permanently altered the existence of something around you, of another being, and that in the process you have altered something about yourself, is shattering.
The vast majority of people will never experience this though. And I think that there may be something lost in that. There is value in not only sharing the responsibility for your actions, but in really internalizing the meaning of them.
To pull a vegetable from the ground is a magical experience. Miraculous really. Sunbeams and minerals and a living seed conspired to give you this thing that you can hold in your hand, a thing of shocking vibrancy and flavor, a nourishing thing, a thing of life.
You are not alone. You are the product of a million living beings. The product of sunbeams.
To eat is to crack open a coconut alongside a dusty road and to bathe for a minute in the coolness filling your mouth, the coolness rising through your head. It is in this moment, if you are paying attention, you realize that you have never been so appreciative of a tree before. If you look up, you can realize, maybe for the first time, that because of few green leaves and shallow roots beneath your feet, you will continue walking that day.
Food provides us a way to connect deeply with the present, and with the living, but I think that this is changing. For many people this has already changed. For many people it was never this way at all.
There is still a lot of emotion around food, I don’t mean to imply that there isn’t. Profound feelings. But much of the magic in food is gone: the fierceness of flavor, the certain richness that comes from something that has spent most of its life outdoors, the unexpected and the individual, the misshapen tomatoes and the raspberries that you picked a little too late.
Food is moralized, commercialized, packaged, labeled, presented, eaten in a hurry, eaten secretly, not eaten at all. Its production is distanced, removed, unseen.
Food is a symbol of power and a symbol of the powerless. It is both a source of strength and a badge of weakness, of poverty, of ignorance. Eating is an experience of pain or pleasure or both. An event contributing to sickness or to health. A choice, or the lack thereof.
There are a lot of things that worry me about food nowadays. I worry about the way that we grow our crops, and the way that we raise our animals. I think about both the hunter in the woods and the child who has yet to taste something that did not appear from a piece of plastic.
I worry about the way that people feel when they eat their food, the way that they feel when they buy it, the ways in which they have access to it, and how they grow it, and if they grow it.
I will write about all of these things.
For now I stare at my apple and try to recreate its story.
I wonder about where it came from. I wonder about how the seed landed when it hit the earth. Did it make a sound? Was it pushed into the earth by a human hand, by chance, by wind, by a machine?
I wonder about what kind of earth it landed into. I wonder if it rained that first day. If it rained that first night.
I wonder if there were chemicals in the soil, if there are chemicals in my apple. If there will be chemicals in my body soon, seeping into my cells. I wonder what chemicals they might be. I wonder what they will do, if they will change me, how they will change me.
I wonder how the tree grew. I wonder if the branches were long and burdened with fruit, or cut to form a perfect pine tree shape, like the apple trees at the orchard near my house.
I wonder if the branches provided shade to somebody, or if this tree was part of assembly line, an attempt to feed the masses. Probably the latter.
I wonder about the person who harvested this apple. I wonder about their hands. I wonder about their dreams. I wonder if they want to be picking apples. If their back hurts, if the sun was hot, if their legs felt tired, if their hands were warm.
I think about the crates and trucks and miles of road and wheels turning and machines grinding and the way my apple was eventually placed neatly in a row on a wooden table one night at the grocery store. Silent and obedient. Shiny, stem cut short, leaves removed, bruises minimized.
I reconstruct a story but I realize that I do not really know.
But maybe I will build a life around knowing. And helping other people to know too. It seems time to rediscover the magic of it, the real magic of it. The way it makes us feel and the way it makes us look and the ways in which it connects us to each other and the ways in which it ties us to this earth and to this life.
I think it is time to remember.