Going to a convenient store, one is inevitably bombarded with images of stick thin, air brushed models on the covers of magazines with captions declaring the latest fad diets and weight loss trends, comparing the best and worst beach bodies, and promoting exercise regimes to help you lose 10 pounds in a week. At the same time one is surrounded by fake, cheap, manufactured “food”, chock full of addictive sugars and fats. You can’t watch TV without seeing commercial after commercial for some kind of processed food or fast food restaurant. What kind of message is this giving us? How can we eat all of these foods that are being pushed on us at all times, from all directions, while maintaining the perfect body? How can someone ever live up to these conflicting expectations that society shoves in our faces? It is enough to drive anyone a little bit crazy, to push people to extremes of thought, belief, and action.
In this society, food has lost its sacredness. It has become something to fear, to avoid, and to disdain; or something to indulge in, to excess, to stuff yourself with until you’re fit to burst. How has something so basic, so essential to every single life on planet earth become so tainted? Thousands and thousands of women and men in the United States are affected by eating disorders. They are tormented by food, something that they must face each and every day. Rather than a source of nourishment, it is something to be feared and avoided at all costs. It is seen as something that taints the body, ruins the body, rather than an essential tool for creating a strong, beautiful, functional being.The world today, when looked at from afar, appears rather insane. In some parts of the Earth there are people starving themselves to be thin by choice, while across the globe children are dying from starvation due to lack of access to food. In one country, people are paying to literally have the fat sucked out of them while in other people are living as emaciated skeletons. How does one begin to make sense of all this? And, knowing all this, how can one craft a relationship with food that is healthy, nourishing, and sustaining?
These are questions that I struggle with daily as I fight my own battle with an eating disorder. It has snuck up on me, over the years, infiltrating more aspects of my life than I ever imagined. Ultimately, I find myself disappointed and frustrated with myself; I have grown up in so much privilege and material comfort and yet I’m not satisfied, not content, not only unappreciative but tormented by the choices and excess available to me. But I am starting to see that it is not my fault; this is an issue that runs so much deeper than the individual consumer. It is a societal concern, a global illness, a disease of gross worldwide inequality. How could I not feel guilty, sitting down to eat each and every day, while I know that so much of the world goes hungry? How could I not feel disgusted around food when portions keep growing and foods become faker and less healthy?
So what is to be done? How can we work together to heal our relationship with food, to ensure that hunger, one of the most basic needs of humanity, is addressed in each and every individual on the planet? There is no one easy answer but as I learn more about food systems and food culture I am starting to see essential steps that must be taken towards this goal.
As the people of a global powerhouse, the citizens of the United States need to take a good hard look at the underlying values that drive production and consumption patterns. We need to separate basic needs from luxuries, real food from fake food, sufficiency from excess. We need to stop acting from a place of gluttony and greed and instead make choices with awareness and compassion. We need to acknowledge the ties that bind all people, both within the United States and around the globe, and work to strengthen these through communication and collaboration. We need to support food sovereignty and sustainability by shifting the allocation of resources away from factory farmed and fashioned “foods” to ecologically grown produce and humanely produced animal products and empower individuals and communities to grow their own foods and control their own markets.
Though there are some on this Earth with more to eat than others, on some level, one far beyond the physical realm, we are all starving. We are craving equality, community, health, and justice. And I believe, without a doubt, that by working together we can craft a system that meets these needs and creates the basic structure for a global community of cooperation, kindness, and love.