Sunday, May 18, 2008

Squalid Tables

I've mentioned this to a few people over time, but I am particularly (and, I guess, strangely) offended by television and radio shows that "play" with food. These would include shows like Iron Chef, anything hosted by a 'name' celebrity chef, and NPR's "Splendid Table."

Now, I feel strange about hating on an NPR show, seeing as I am a political progressive (not a talking points spewing 'liberal,' as I do have entirely rational conservative views), with Michigan Radio bookmarked in my browser and listed in my iTunes playlists. However, I was raised Catholic, which means I was taught about all those kids around the world who didn't even HAVE brussel sprouts to eat (note: I love my sprouts now). Whenever I left food on my plate, I got the short course in third-world poverty, aided by news images, flickering on the TV, of kids with bloated bellies which were, strangely, empty of food.

And it stuck.

Food is a deadly serious issue. I think we (Western societies) take it entirely too much for granted, as if there were a grove of trees somewhere, from which beef loin and macaroni noodles were plucked by happy (and well-fed) field laborers, singing Kumbaya and otherwise basking in the warm harvest sunlight.

Being a true cynic and fair-to-moderate pessimist, I often find myself thinking thoughts others would consider nutty. In this case, I recently found myself walking home from the corner store with a couple of Cherry Cokes, thinking, "what would I do if food stopped being delivered tonight?" Most people do not think along these lines, which is probably very good for national morale. I do, though, and it is not a happy vision.

Imagine if, for the foreseeable future, there were to be no more boxes labeled 'Kraft' to be found on the store shelves. Imagine candy counters full of empty boxes waiting for refills of Mars bars and Hershey King Size chocolate bars. The cooler normally full of energy drinks and high-fructose iced teas were empty, allowing you to see clear to the back wall.

No big deal, you might think, so I'll expand it: imagine that the same site awaits in the store a block away. And in all the stores on the outskirts of your town and beyond. Impossible? No. Unlikely? For the moment, perhaps.

Food is not a toy or an entertainment. People starve every day, for no other reason than the circumstances of their birth (yeah, there's a 'god'). And they aren't starving for lack of roast beef, lemon merengue pie and whole milk. They are starving because they can't get their hands on a lousy fistful of rice. They are slowly dying because they can't get a mouthful of clean water.

Meanwhile, we in the developed world have created entertainments which celebrate the cornucopia of food and drink available to us all, and the creation of new and more succulent ways of broaching salmon and taste-testing burgundies, etc. We have contestants battling over the best way to cook rare seafood. We have professionals who advise us as to the proper wine accompaniment to our pastas. Well-fed individuals delight or commiserate over the outcome of some Iron Chef-inspired competition. And we have a show on NPR where the host takes calls which attempt to 'stump' the chef by listing some LEFTOVERS in the caller's fridge, challenging her to create a meal from the soon-to-rot overabundance.

That is playing with one's food. I was taught as a child the sinfulness of such play. And I cannot watch or listen to shows like this without bitching out my radio while I flail for the tuner (not the tuna).

I don't know really why I posted this rant. Largely, I guess it's because I think this quite often, but I relate those thoughts rarely, if ever, to those around me. Well, here they are now, for your consideration. I'm not angry at you for eating a cheeseburger (I love them down at the Sidetrack). I just want everyone to stop and consider how fortunate they are to HAVE food in front of them, and to consciously attempt to do their part to reign in society's capricious attitudes towards sustenance.

Bon apetit!

1 comment:

Brent J said...

Excellent commentary! Modern US agriculture is essentially the conversion of approximately 10 calories of fossil fuels into 1 calorie of food. We may see empty shelves here well within our lifetimes if people don't learn to conserve and live within their means. Some miraculous technological breakthrough may temporarily bail us out but I don't think that will be ultimate remedy. BTW, "The Splendid Table" on NPR has always slightly annoyed me too.