Food and the Way of the Warrior

eating trends food culture healthy food

Incidentally, We Must Eat

Food is a topic I personally am interested in because of the way it has been relegated to the incidental in our modern society. Food used to be imbued with sacred power and reverance, as it is literally what we are made of. People used to put a great deal of effort and thought into acquiring and preparing their food, to best promote health, well-being and happiness. Lately however, food has become a victim of the nutrient viewpoint, which suggests that it is nothing more than its parts, which can be seperated or combined to suit our whims. This separates food, really a source of life-giving sustenance, from the experience of eating. Furthermore, people now try to spend as little as possible on food, as if that were a good thing. I hear advertisements for supermarket sales touting $0.99 chicken breasts and I wonder, "if you resent food so much you want to spend as little as possible on it, why would you eat it?" As a culture, we have developed this disturbing relationship with food that it is a begrudged necessity and at the same time, a guilty indulgence. Actually, I think resenting our need for food makes it associated with guilty indulgence, since you can't really deny the fact that food is a necessity for existence.

I don't think we should seek to spend nothing on food. I'd rather spend half my paycheck on sustaining a healthy body than on partying, buying nice clothes, or video games. How did our priorities get so messed up? Why do we shy away from spending money on food? I honestly don't know. We seem to think we're entitled to free calories, but food has never been free. Health foods, locally grown produce, grass-fed beef, are all associated with the pretentious rich or obsessive gardening mothers with control issues which they take out on their family's diets. I acknowledge that there are people who can hardly afford to pay rent, and whatever they have leftover would not feed them if they only bought organic. The problem is with society as a whole, not individual spending choices. Society has cultivated this image that health food is for the rich or those with waaaay too much time on their hands. Americans spend the lowest percentage of their income on food of any country in the world, according to this report by the USDA. The second lowest, Singapore, beats us by almost 3%. Poorer countries spend much more, often up to 50%, while countries that are known for having healthy populations and food cultures (Japan, Switzerland, the Scandinavian countries, France) are around 10%.

Social Eating

Sharing food is also a social activity, promoting understanding through partaking in a mutual font of energy and sustenance. It must be enjoyed in the moment, since taste is so fleeting, but its benefits can be felt for hours or even days after consumption. There are political and social implications of what we choose to eat as well. A Warrior must pay attention to her life, and paying attention to what we eat is a good starting place, since failing to do so can lead to health problems, impacts our world negatively, and leads us to miss out on experiences that have been at the center of human social interactions since group hunts and mammoth roasts. There is a lot of emotional and symbolic significance to the act of several lives deriving sustenance from the same source. It creates a kind of connection, both spiritual and physical. The atoms in that Thanksgiving turkey will be incorporated into every member of the family who ate it. The experiences carried by those atoms will all be shared. Pardon the metaphysics, but it is true to a large extent.

To harp on American food culture yet again, the social aspect of eating in America has all but died out. According to a recent study by the Culinary Institute, cited in this article, 19% of meals and snacks are eaten in the car, and large numbers of Americans report eating alone a significant proportion of the time (based on my personal research on online forums. This is a generally accepted trend, but I don't have proof I guess). In some cultures, it's actually back luck to eat alone, and even in the US, dining out alone is considered awkward.  That said, apparently we eat more when we eat in social situations. I personally see benefit in both situations, if I am mindful. When I eat alone, I can pay attention to my food and really enjoy it. When I'm with others, the act of eating becomes more social, and the social aspect is enhanced by sharing a meal.

I do not intend to proscribe what is the proper way to eat for any individual or group, I simply advocate awareness and appreciation of the gift of food. My personal eating habits have been in transition for the better part of a year, and hover somewhere between promoting athletic performance, supporting sustainable, organic, local practices, and partaking in the social connection of sharing a good meal. I treat food with reverance because it is what I put in my body, the only body I have, that has to last me until I die. I would never put low-quality gasoline in a nice car (unless I had to), so I see even less reason to put food I know is bad for me in my body, unless there is some other end I am trying to attain. Then, I must balance my priorities at the moment. If I'm in intense fitness mode, I won't eat any sugar, but if I'm celebrating Thanksgiving with my family and friends, you bet I'm gonna enjoy that lovingly prepared pumpkin pie. I don't normally drink alcohol, but if it serves my intended purpose and I want to enjoy it, then I will.

So basically, know why you eat what you eat, just like you should know why you do most things in your life. Even if you don't change anything, at least be aware of your choices. With something that has such far-reaching repurcussions as food, it is important not to be absent-minded. Avoid doing things just because that's how you've always done them, or because everyone else is. Think about your food. We are what we eat, after all, so thinking about our choice of food is pretty central to choosing who we are.


PS: I'm looking to expand this into an article on what we want the Emerging American Meal to look like, so if you have comments on food culture in America, please share. Links to good sources and studies would be helpful too.

Image source: Tambako the Jaguar on Flickr