(By Spencer Leefe, Queen’s University)
Do we still care about our food?
When I started to research this matter, it was not about cooking or the act of eating. However, when researching methods of food production in present today compared to before the twentieth century, I noticed an alarming trend. The act of cooking home meals has decreased significantly in the last century. I investigated the effects of this dying art on society and how it has declined in the first place.
First, we must look back in time to see how society’s view on cooking and consuming food has changed over time.
Picture yourself walking in downtown Kingston; a city with one of the highest restaurants per capita in Canada! It’s lunch time so you are feeling pretty hungry. You pass a few bakeries, restaurants, and pubs. The delicious aroma of these places starts getting to you and you start envisioning yourself walking in to buy a nice meal. Then you start thinking about the amount of cash you would spend if you were to go in and buy a meal. That’s when you see the golden arches; McDonald’s in all its greasiness. The smell overloads your brain with pleasure. You walk in and see the menu and the food. You get yourself a couple of McDoubles, a soda, and fries.
The scenario above or a version of such is something that has probably has happened to you in the past. If it has, do you recall considering to cook a meal for yourself instead? If you did not, you fall under category one. If you did, but you ended up buying a meal from McDonald’s anyway, you fall under category two, and If you did, and you ended up going home and making yourself a meal then that is great! Continue reading and learn why you made such a positive choice.
Various aspects of the food industry has changed over time. The fact that we call it an industry is one of the reasons that has changed the act of eating. Over time, eating has changed from an experience into a commodity.
Our neoliberal society’s regards to food has changed the way we see food. If you do not believe this, then just go outside for a walk and you will see a Starbucks on every corner. Go to other countries and you will see a McDonald’s in 119 of them. Food has become a product of consumption. Before the rise of fast food chains people looked at food a lot differently. Gas stations used to only sell gas. Now you walk into a gas station and you will see processed foods being sold in bottles and bags – none of which you actually need to stay alive. In other countries, there are still people that look at food as an experience, yet it certainly is declining as food becomes more and more processed.
Not so long ago food had held a high importance in regards to our lives. This importance contrasts significantly than the importance food has on our lives today.
For instance, there is a close connection between food and religion. Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism all have a salient focal point that they surround their ideologies with. That focal point is food. Specifically, in the practice of these religions the act of eating or restraining oneself from eating has huge importance. This importance placed on eating makes people think about what they are eating. This lets eating become a conscious experience for the individual and the collective. As you eat alone you need to pray before (and sometimes after) the meal which adds another level of mindfulness while eating.
Mindfulness is important while eating and needs to be practiced more often today. By appreciating the foods you are eating, you will want to eat slower and find it more difficult to overeat. I am not saying you must pray before and after each meal, but I am saying that it is useful to have a deeper relationship with the food you eat so you can appreciate the experience of eating. Practicing people of virtually all religions recognize this important connection which is why we must take notice of their food rituals.
On top of the individual experience you see with religion; there is a collective experience. People throughout history would more often than not share meals with one another. It was not until recently that we could pick up the phone or go online and order a meal right to our door. Then once we get our food, most of us will sit in front of a screen as we mindlessly shove bites into our mouths. Notably, a well-loved tradition that we see declining is the emphasis of the family dinner. Sure most of us will get together at Thanksgiving, Christmas, Ramadan, etc. – but studies show according to an study done by Refrigerated & Frozen Food:
Nearly half (47%) of parents say that they share fewer meals with their family than whe they were growing up (53% of dads vs 41% of moms), while 43% of parents say that they have fewer family meals now than from five years ago (50% dads vs 35% moms). Not only that, when some families do sit down and have a meal together most of the time is not spent talking, but using technology.
Our relationship with food can be explained through operational conditioning like in the psychological experiment known as Pavlov’s dogs. A Russian scientist named Ivan Pavlov conducted an experiment involving a starving dog, a piece of meat, and an extremely loud bell. When he would show the dog the meat, the dog would salivate and Pavlov would ring the bell. Pavlov did this over and over again, until he no longer needed the meat to make the dog salivate – he would just ring the bell. Pavlov noticed that even though the bell and the meat were completely unrelated at first, the bell and the feeling the meat gave the dog became linked. This type of conditioning is comparable to our relationship to food. Whenever we eat we like to be preoccupied by a screen in front of us. Go to the Queen’s Centre/ARC and see all of the people on their phones as they eat mindlessly. If people were to spend more time together while eating, they could certainly appreciate the food they eat more.
Around the world, we have been seeing the rise of the food industry. As stated earlier, food is no longer an experience, but a commodity. You can just buy food that has been gathered, processed, and made for you. It is far more expensive than buying your own ingredients and cooking, but hey, it saves time. Even if you go to the grocery store you will see all of the processed foods that are pretty much killing us. Families that buy soda, chips, or any other food that has no real dietary value need to think twice. In their mind they think it is a good deal to buy soda that is on sale but you do not need soda to live. This summer I actually wanted to see what would happen to me if I stopped drinking any drink other than water completely. I did this for a month and felt a lot happier and healthier in general. To this day, I have cut soda completely out of my diet because I realized two things: It is a waste of money and we drink it because we are addicted to it.
Candy, chips and soda are all loaded with fats, sugar, and salt. Although these ingredients are needed in the body in moderation, large quantities turn them into a mix of the most addictive cocktail you can think of. They spike the dopamine levels in your brain which is why you get a temporary feeling of satisfaction when you eat them, but you instantly want more. Eating a lot of foods with these ingredients leads to obesity, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and many more avoidable health issues.
How do we solve this? There is a great challenge laid out in a documentary called “Cooked” where the question on how to monitor your levels of not eating processed foods is raised. The challenge is this: You can eat anything you want (pies, cookies, candies, pop, chips, etc.), but there is a catch – you have to cook all the food you want. You will start to see yourself not wanting to cook all those foods. You will break your addiction. Cook what you need and eat what you cook.
There are so many reasons as to why food has become a commodity. It would be unfair of me to say I touched on all of the reasons, because I have not. The goal of this article is to simply make people aware of the fact that it has become a commodity. This way of looking at food has affected the relationship we have with eating and cooking.
Better Health. “Better Health Channel.” Food Culture and Reigion, 2011, www.imagineeducation.com.au/files/CHC30113/Food_Culture_and_Religion.pdf.
Diaz, Sara. “Religion and Food.” You Are What You Ate, Leads, www.leeds.ac.uk/yawya/science-and-nutrition/Religion%20and%20food.html.
Kenner, Robert, et al. Food, Inc. Magnolia Home Entertainment, 2009.
McKnight, Zoe. “How Canadian families eat.” Thestar.com, 17 Mar. 2016, www.thestar.com/life/food_wine/2016/03/17/how-canadian-families-eat.html.
Norman, Corrie E. “Food and Religion.” The Oxford Handbook of Food History. : Oxford University Press, 2012-10-16. Oxford Handbooks Online. 2012-11-21. Date Accessed 28 Oct. 2017 <http://www.oxfordhandbooks.com/view/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199729937.001.0001/o xfordhb -9780199729937-e-23>.
Pollan, Michael, director. Cooked. Jigsaw Productions, 2016
Refrigerated and Frozen Foods. “Study shows trends in family mealtimes.” Refrigerated and Frozen Foods, 26 May 2016, www.refrigeratedfrozenfood.com/articles/90952-study- shows-trends-in-family-mealtimes.
Spurlock, Morgan. Super Size Me. New York, N.Y: Hart Sharp Video, 2004.