What do we eat?
I hear this often among my brethren in the school of existentialist stoicism and it always elicits a firestorm of debate that rages well into the night and usually ends with us re-enacting entire scenes from Mr. Belvedere.
As recently as 3 or 4 generations ago, “what do we eat” was really the question “what could we eat?” In rural areas, the selection was tied to that which was grown in the immediate area. In the city, it was what could be made in a kitchen or survive a long, intemperate transport. Choices were already made long before any shopping or chopping, and many of these choices were well out of the consumer’s hands.
In today’s local metropolis, I can find just about any food imaginable regardless of origin, preparation complexity, or rarity. Animal proteins are plentiful, cheap, and conveniently butchered down to the most intricate cut. Cheeses and fruits from far off lands with names that tangle the American tongue arrive in the 24/7/365 hypermarket not 3 miles from my house. Where else could matzoh and khubz coexist peacefully!?
I could sample a different cuisine each meal of the day for a month without repetition, and wash them down with wine from
7 6 continents (unless the penguins finally got their press up and running).
I can have my food cooked to order or I can have it prepared by my food jobber and sitting in a display case. If I’m too
lazy busy, someone will bring the food right to my car. Heck, I can even stay in my skivvies and have them show up at my door! Some dishes come micro-measured for portion control and are so far removed from nature that they are mysteriously labeled “food products”. If I wish to tackle the task myself, I can choose from the basest, rawest ingredients or select from something a little farther down the production line with “pre-“ in the description: pre-washed, pre-chopped, pre-baked, pre-shelled, and pre-chewed.
We’ve got so much food we build jungle gyms for them to romp on!
We’re perpetually inundated by food and the idea of eating. Our clocks tell us to eat, as does our culture, the media, and occasionally our own bodies. But we can only eat so much (some more than others), and thus we must choose from a bewilderingly array unknown to our society only a half-century ago. Given that we could eat just about anything, how do you choose what to eat given the literal smorgasbord afforded by modern civilization? I’ll give you my own take on that in my next post, but in the meantime consider your own answer.