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January 9, 2020

What we’re getting so wrong about Food.

Reflections on food and Anthony Bourdain—at the end of a three-day fast.

I made it through my mother’s cooking last night, and all the smells, and all the foody photos my friends have been sending me, and the temptation of sweets but mostly savories, like chips.

But I’m realizing at a deeper level what food is and I’m seeing it for how it is and how obsessed we are with it and its various forms and permutations.

People love their food and so do animals, but animals survive on mostly subsistence and have to really fight for it. We glamorize food and turn into something beyond just sustenance, which is neither good or bad—just human.

But, the food by itself, without judgment, is beautiful, truly magnificent. And the actions people take to prepare it are too—from unconscious, involuntary urges, to premeditation, to external stimuli and conditioned responses, emotional and physical, to selection, preparation, and consumption.

Food is just as complex and important as sleep—and in our culture we have them both wrong.

We should build our lives around good, wholesome food and sleep. Instead, we build our food and sleep around our lives. It’s twisted.

So, the hearth or the table, the gathering places where we congregate are also just as important. Everything about our modern lives eschews the complex networks we create that are fundamental to our survival.

The people from the Stone Age knew of this value, if only to ensure or enhance the survival of their “social network.”

And when I supped with the indigenous people in the Amazon, I understood the value of the food we shared in community. The peccary, turtle, or forest pavo were all shared, as was every bit of wild fruit, and no one got more than they needed. We ran out of gas, plata (money), and food supplies, yet we never starved. The shaman fed us only what we needed, nothing more and nothing less.

And it brings tears to my eyes that we think we live in community with all this talk of digital networks bringing us closer.

Have we ever been so disconnected? From ourselves, from others, from beauty, taste, reality?! From our food?

We crave, thirst, and hunger for intimacy, community, a gathering of the tribes. Maybe we all need to run out of gas, plata, and food supplies. Maybe we all really need to starve.

I think reading Bourdain—who was an unapologetic omnivore—demonstrated to me the amount of shame we have about food, which leads to desire, and fads, and neurosis, and imbalance. Bourdain was unapologetic and unabashed because his connection to food was about community and beauty. That’s it. And he loved it and lived it and breathed it. And, of course he would commit suicide in the pop-up kitchen, take out, table-turning, fast-food society. Seeing this mechanized and frenetic form of eating chasing him around the world probably drove him insane. I see his decomposed corpse among the straws, Styrofoam, discarded tissues, furlongs of plastic wrap, gallons, half gallons, tsunamis of water bottles.

My friend sent me photos of David Chang’s Momofuku in Las Vegas and I was just agape and in awe of the beauty of the food.

But I was just as amazed at the smells emanating from my mother’s Tuscan kitchen or the photos of turkey chili and green chili mac and cheese my friend Laura was preparing for her three kids.

Like the sea, I respect the food, because I know it can both nourish me and kill me.

We are so obsessed with sharing our images, music, deep thoughts, grievances, political ideologies, memes…a typhoon of memes. But can we really call this sharing? Would we share our dining table with our neighbor even, a half sandwich with a homeless person?

We share entirely outside of the table freely. What we really want is to share with as many others around the table. It’s so damn fundamental. We crave it. We really do, even more than caviar and foie-gras. And we’ve been craving it for too long.

Is this why we are willing to spend so much money dining out at chain restaurants? We are desperate to simulate daily what is woven into our DNA and that has evolved epigenetically through millennia. Just a group of people destressing around the hearth, celebrating another day alive, sharing our food, our laughs, our fears, and our stories.


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Joseph Calderone  |  Contribution: 1,440

author: Joseph Calderone

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