Food sovereignty

I heard a recent report on NPR news in which the reporter reeled out the usual trite comments about how bad the economy is, and concluded by saying that this is causing problems for the restaurant industry because eating at home is becoming “the new normal”.

This casual, throw-away comment rocked me on a very fundamental level. The thought that eating a home cooked meal was “abnormal” or “weird” is strange and frightening to me. It also explains a lot of the causes of the obesity “epidemic” striking many industrialised countries – when you stop cooking for yourself, you hand your food sovereignty to a stranger.

There are many reasons, or rather excuses, people will give for not cooking for themselves or their family. “I work 18 hours a day”, “It’s too expensive”, “I don’t have time” and, saddest of all, “I don’t know how”. How did we come to this state? How can people with access to slow cookers, pressure cookers, and freezers think they “don’t have time” to cook a meal? How can children leave their parents’ home NOT KNOWING HOW TO COOK? How did this happen?

I have ranted in conversation with friends and family about TV shows and magazines that have titles like “so simple!” or “only 15 minutes!”. These magazines and TV shows are essentially saying “you’re too stupid to do this”, followed up by “your family and friends are so unimportant that they only deserve 15 minutes of your time”. How about all the studies showing that the family that eats together, stays together?

The essence of cooking is to put food in the belly, yes, but it’s also an act of love. By cooking a meal for someone you are saying “your health and well-being are so important to me that I will take time out of my day to make something to nourish you”.

I work a full time job. I have a wife and a toddler to take care of. We have activities we perform after work and at the weekend, but we also make sure that the majority of our free time is family time. I look at the after-hours schedules of some of our friends and family and am aghast because in all the activities, they leave no time for the family to be together as a family. Is it any wonder that families are breaking up at a greater rate than ever before in human history? Kids are growing up not knowing what it is like to spend an evening at home with both parents. What is “family” when all you have in common is the address your mail is sent to? Are your work and leisure activities really more important than your family?

Despite work and activities I still manage to do almost all of the cooking, day in, day out. Days that I know we are going to be home late I put something into the slow cooker so that we can eat good, tasty food at home. I read recipe books, including ones in the public domain, to get ideas and inspirations for things to cook. I check out the websites that provide copycat recipes for famous chain restaurants and am usually staggered by the amount of salt in them. Yes, we use fast food and dining out – but only as a treat, as a special occasion, not for our daily needs.

When I question people who say they “don’t have time” to cook, it is often an uncomfortable conversation when I delve into specifics. How much time do you spend on Facebook? How much time do you spend watching TV? How much time do you spend goofing off? I deleted my Facebook account. I don’t watch TV, I use Netflix, the library, and the internet to provide my entertainment and diversions. I use the time that others use to watch TV to cook nourishing food for my family.

I do all of this to keep my family’s food sovereignty where it belongs – at home. I believe that my family deserves nothing less than that. I believe the friends I invite around for dinner deserve nothing less. I see cooking a meal from scratch, especially when I make sure that it won’t affect those who have food allergies or intolerances, as a profound act of love.

I also question the assertion that it’s too “expensive” to cook at home. Look at the frugal posts I have made here and you will see why I disagree. It is far more expensive to eat out all the time than it is to eat in for the majority of your meals.

If you, the person reading this article, think I am attacking you – I am not. I am attacking a way of life that is trying to kill us. It’s a way of life that is splitting up our families, abusing our food supplies, pillaging our planet, and leaving people feeling disempowered in the most important aspect of their lives – their families and their food supply.

How did we become so utterly divorced from our food that we can turn a blind eye to the abominable conditions our food animals live in?

I don’t expect everyone to be as much of a foodie as I am. I have spent a lot of time and a fair amount of money to get the skills and supplies I have; to get a freezer full of local, ethically raised meat; to get a pantry that is overflowing with food. But at the end of the day what I have achieved is not beyond the abilities of anyone to accomplish. Take a long, hard look at how you spend your time. How many minutes on Facebook, playing games or reading the minutia of your friends’ lives (“Just got a latte at Starbucks and the barista was so weird”)? How much time do you spend watching shows you acknowledge are trash, silly videos on YouTube, reading LOLcat columns, or endless replays of the last big sporting event? And take a look inside you. Think about how you feel about how you are spending your time. (Incidentally, the number of books people read has dropped drastically since TV became highly accessible, and even more since the internet brought us new timesinks. How long is it since you read a book?)

Maybe you can free up some of that Facebook and reality show time to start clawing back your food sovereignty? Maybe you can drop one or two of those after hours activities to claw back your family sovereignty?

If enough of us take a step back from being told how to spend our time and carefully consider how *we* want to spend it, sovereignty will go back to where it belongs. In your hands. You have the power – you just need to take it back.


2 responses to “Food sovereignty”

  1. There’s this ironic problem with the way we measure economic productivity that if we both grow our own bananas and then eat them, our GDP = 0, whereas if we sold those bananas to each other and then ate them, our production would be identical, but suddenly we’d have a GDP! So if everyone eats out at restaurants, we’re spending more money and the economy is ‘stronger’ than if we just cooked and ate the same exact food at home.

    By extension, the economy will be strongest when all of the adults are employed, every child is in daycare, every homes is cleaned by maids, and we all eat exclusively at McDonald’s. Anyone who scrubs their own toilet or sings their own music is a thief, destroying the national economy.

    Some of the busiest people I know (truly busy, as in regularly working full 24 hour days or more) still have time for things like canning their own jam, or at least nuking a potato.

    There are some truly fabulous restaurants out there I’d like to visit again someday, but sadly, most folks waste their time on crappy restaurants like IHOP or McDonalds. Price and convenience aren’t even reasonable excuses for this–I can get a hot, pre-cooked chicken at the grocery store for $5 and take it home and serve it up, which I guarantee will be faster than hauling my kids out of the playplace. (Though the playplace is fun.)

    On the one hand, I think our society is addicted to laziness. Most of us realized early on that school wasn’t going to kick us out for doing a bad job, and like the Soviets, we’ve been half-assing it ever since. Since nothing we do ever actually matters, we grow into “adults” who still have no idea what it means to be responsible, much less take pride in their work. I was raised by parents who thought housework was degrading and whose home-cooked meals left me longing for microwaved dinners.

    On the other hand, for a lot of us, restaurant food represents material wealth–to a poor immigrant, being able to feed their kids cheap, taste-bud triggering meat every day is the ultimate way of saying “We’ve arrived.” Who wants to go home and make their kids some cheap and healthy rice and beans? That’s what poor people eat. For them, McDonald’s is an expression of love.

    For the lazy among us, I think we just have to buck up and realize that the things we do do matter. For poor folks for whom fast food represents a clean playground and hot, tasty meat, I think we’re going to have to give some serious thought to making sure people have access to actual supermarkets and playgrounds, and encourage a culture in which we stop equating ‘healthy’ with ‘boring’.

    Anyway, nice blog.

  2. thanks for the comment.

    I agree that for many people, McDs=love. This is a very sad equation, as McD’s is about as far away from food and love as I can imagine…

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