The latest USDA decision regarding chicken (if you really can call the end product “chicken”) is flabbergasting to me! The article, Don’t Trust a Chicken Nugget That’s Visited China, is eye opening and just a glimpse into the greed and unsustainable process that is the core function of the FDA and USDA. And as the article aptly mentions, that the USDA waited until the Friday before a three day weekend – coyly slipping the information knowing that the general public would miss it since their focus would be on a last sunny vacation at the beach, camping or wherever R&R is possible to achieve.
One book that I thoroughly enjoyed from cover to cover (and recommend to anyone who is wanting to learn the true depths and beauty of food and farming) is Bringing it to the Table by Wendell Berry. This book is a collection of essays written throughout the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and into the 21st century. In a 1989 essay entitled, The Pleasures of Eating, Berry writes,
“The consumer, that is to say, must be kept from discovering that, in the food industry – as in any other industry – the overriding concerns are not quality and health, but volume and price… But as scale increases, diversity declines; as diversity declines , so does health; as health declines, the dependence on drugs and chemicals necessarily increases.”
And this is just how so many of us live… we are kept from seeing the truth behind the system – the food industry is not concerned about our health at all, no matter how well it is advertised, how colorful the packaging is, and how “good” it may taste. So how are we to be freed from this “trap” as Berry calls it? He goes on to say,
“Eaters, that is, must understand that eating takes place inescapably in the world, that it is inescapably an agricultural act, and that how we eat determines, to a considerable extent, how the world is used. This is a simple way of describing a relationship that is inexpressibly complex. To eat responsibly is to understand and enact, so far as one can, this complex relationship.”
Relationship with food? Yes, you read that correctly. Berry gives a great list of what to do – how to bring this relationship into fruition, if you will. Things like:
“1. Participate in food production to the extent that you can… Only by growing some food for yourself can you become acquainted with the beautiful energy cycle that revolves from soil to seed to flower to fruit to food to offal to decay, and around again… You will appreciate it fully, having known it all its life.
2. Prepare your own food.
3. Learn the origins of the food you buy, and buy the food that is produced closest to your home… The locally produced food supply is the most secure, the freshest, and the easiest for local consumers to know about and to influence.
4. Whenever possible, deal directly with a local farmer, gardener, or orchardist.
5. Learn, in self-defense, as much as you can of the economy and technology of industrial food production. What is added to food that is not food, and what do you pay for those additions?”
I foresee that this last point is becoming more and more of a need in our American culture – to become aware and learn… to step out of our ignorance and remove the veil and dare to see what really is happening in the industrial food system. And only then, once we have seen the ugliness and greed, is there a deeper relationship with food, because we are compelled to find REAL food and grow our passion and love for what is truly life-giving to our bodies. Wendell Berry closes his essay beautifully:
“Eating with the fullest pleasure – pleasure, that is, that does not depend on ignorance – is perhaps the profoundest enactment of our connection with the world. In this pleasure we experience and celebrate our dependence and our gratitude, for we are living from mystery, from creatures we did not make and powers we cannot comprehend.”
Go on, connect yourself to the world and experience the pleasures of eating.