Sunday, July 15, 2007

Weekend Update

The Ethicurian blog has announced a "netroots" campaign to counter Helmann's effort to push its corporate mayonnaise as "real food."

The idea is to summon the forces of the food blogosphere to demonstrate to the corporate and government interests that "real food" consists of something more genuine--something more connected to the soil and the human spirit, something more natural and scaled to the needs of individual people--than eggs from a distant factory chicken whipped into an industrial gel that will last indefinitely on a supermarket shelf.

Therefore, I am taking this moment to reflect a bit on the meaning of The Slow Cook.

In fact, there was a Slow Cook before there was a blog. It began with a collection of recipes--an emerging collection of recipes--centered on the idea that the food we eat and how we eat it should be a point of departure for our lives. Our current culture, the commonly accepted approach to food, has it backwards. We treat food as something that has to "fit in" to our hurried lifestyles. Food is not a point of departure, not a focus, but rather an afterthought, an inconvenience that merely fills our inconvenient need to eat.

We just don't have much time for food, because we have arranged our lives around the pursuit of money and the goods that money buys. We are preoccupied with work and acquiring things. Food, if it is to hold our attention at all, must be fast and easy.

A slow approach to food, therefore, represents a rejection of the prevailing cultural imperative. It is a big, fat "no" to the idea that our lives must be organized around the principles of non-stop work, money making and goods acquiring. It is a big fat "no" to the corporate interests that would centralize and industrialize and monopolize the production of our food. It is a big fat "no" to the government interests that subsidize and promote and encourage the corporate ends.

The word "focus" should interest us because it derives from the Latin word for hearth, the place where the family gathered to prepare and eat their food. For The Slow Cook, a focused life is one centered on the family's involvement with food. Food is central to a wholesome, fulfilling life. It is the essence of family, and therefore the root of civilization.

In a short period of time, I progressed from recipes and cooking methods that brought food literally into focus in our home, to actually growing much of the food we cook. I turned our yard here in the District of Columbia into a vegetable garden. In our own urban way, we have tried to return to the soil. It was a natural progression, underscoring for me the importance to the human spirit of working in the soil.

This is the opposite of what has happened to our culture's approach to food and family. The corporate forces that would convince us that cooking is drudgery and that food should serve first and foremost a need for convenience are the same forces that have removed the production of food from our homes and from our communities. They work with government interests to promote sprawl and enforce zoning practices that put small family farms out of business in favor of fast-food businesses that cater to automobiles. Government and coroporations work together to de-humanize food, to centralize and consolidate the production of food in factory settings out of sight and far from where it consumed.

Government perverts our tax system by subsidizing the corporate food producers, turning food into commodities and the production of food into a globalized auction for the cheapest labor. Government encourages the centralization and mass production of food, requiring artificial fertilizers and pesticides that destroy our soil and water.

"Real" food, then, is first and foremost an act of defiance. To adopt "real" food is to embrace a subversive position in our culture. To embrace "real" food is to reject corporate and government control of our food and return food to its original focus, the center of family life. For food to be "real" it must reside where we value our lives most; it must direct us inward toward our spiritual core. Only "real" food sustains our need as humans to be connected to the soil and the most basic cycle of life. Food that comes from a distant factory is empty and devoid of meaning.

So go ahead. Take the "real" food pledge. Refuse to live in service to a corporate and government lifestyle. Slow down. Draw closer to the soil where the "real" food is.


Bonnichiwa said...

Ed: I'm writing this on a Dutch computer, and I'm not sure I'm properly logged in, but I'm in awe of your manifesto. How did we get here? I do feel *had* -- for so long, I thought cooking was a chore, to be outsourced to restaurants or dispatched as quickly as possible (eating too). I'm surprised we haven't yet been brainwashed into thinking sex is too much trouble, too: oh wait, that's what porn is for. Anyway, thanks for picking up the torch and running with it much more gracefully than I person is a crank, but two or more people is a revolution!

Ed Bruske said...

Bonnichiwa, you're coming in loud and clear. I guess this would make me the resident crank. Anyone who wants to join in and make a revolution is welcome...

P.S. We bought a Philips DVD player today. (Dutch, yes?) And were impressed with the recycled packaging.

Bryan said...

Nicely said. Thanks for putting it so clearly.

bs said...

i would take the real food pledge. i've spent my entire life cooking food for myself and now for my family. i walk to the farmer's market every week and actually read their papers to see where the food comes from. i grow my own fruits and veggies. but please don't take mah best foods mayonnaise! i've made mayo before, and i make a darn good aoli... but is there no place for one's culinary childhood in a real food revolution? this southern girl was raised on the stuff. it's all i ever want on a sandwich. else i'm focusing on how wrong the mayonnaise is. i'll see what i can do, but i make no promises.

Ed Bruske said...

bs, I use Helmann's myself--and I do love p'menno cheese. I think this is another case of what you name it, and whether it's the product to carry the "real" food banner. But do by all means take the pledge...