The Unconscious Eater or a Reflection on the New Year
After the excessively festive festive season, most of us are now considering the looming pressure of starting another year afresh. After all that wine, food and consumerism it is inevitable that we will aim and hope to begin a new year; slimmer, healthier, chatting away cheerfully in conversational French confidently clutching a new gym membership. I had long ago given up on New Years Resolutions because the only thing I hate more than going on a diet is a cliché. Some years back I settled on the satisfyingly vague resolution of “To make next year better than the last”, which I realise sadly that after the 6th year is, well, a sad cliché. Looking back I see that 2012 has been, excluding my new found internet fame, mostly a disappointment, and that perhaps in this post-apocolyptic world, a new New Years Resolution is required.
I’ve read a lot by Michael Pollan (both in 2012 and other years) and I thoroughly enjoy his deep analysis of our food and our connection to it, or rather our disconnection to its source. His writing style is fluent, and although filled with detail and well researched fact, it’s accessible to those of us who aren’t scientists. However, reading Pollan feels a bit like going to the dentist: you know you should, and that you’ll be a healthier person for it, but the whole experience is uncomfortable and unpleasant and in then end, you find you’ve lost your appetite. I cannot claim to be as devoted as dear Mikey to the truth behind our food, but I will propose this as a New Years Resolution: to resolve to be a Conscious Eater.
Being a single lady and a food writer, I have come to terms with the fact that a fair percentage of meals will be eaten alone. I never considered this to be a problem, in fact I relish a meal on my own occasionally. It was never an issue until one day I thought to remove all distractions and to be fully conscious of eating the meal in front of me. Usually I am armed with any combination of Kindle, iPhone, morning newspaper or magazine when venturing out to a restaurant alone. Suddenly, without a distraction I found myself oddly anxious. The whole process was uncomfortable, which I realised with disappointment, is quite sad because eating is one of the most wonderful, and instinctively satisfying things you could do. (I’m not counting sleeping, or other activities done lying down). How often do we turn on the TV, or put on a movie, or reach for a book in preparation for the meal to follow? As a child, we almost always ate dinner in front of the TV and even now in my home, we will all discuss dinner and then discuss the TV schedule and half of us will prepare the food while the other half prepare the entertainment.
Being a Conscious Eater is not only about being aware of the food we are eating, but about honestly connecting with our food and the people who produce it for us. I’m not suggesting you name every piece of beef and follow it from birth to plate, nor cut up your Woolworths card and only eat from your own vegetable patch because well, that’s neither cheerful nor delicious. While I was writing this post I thought to myself ‘When was the last time I saw a chicken? or a cow? It must be at least 2 years since I saw a live chicken ( I was scared) and, well, a cow? Ever? I can’t remember. In a more realistic and metropolitan way, when was the last time you spoke to your butcher? Or the lady who makes your cheese? Is your cheese made by a lady or is it manufactured by a machine? Do you know? Currently I am on an island in the Caribbean and today I helped with a fresh produce delivery. I unloaded vegetables from South Africa (yay!), Kenya, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Belgium, the USA, France, Brazil and Mexico. I’m not too concerned whether you think this is right or wrong, but rather, shouldn’t you at the very least have this basic information regarding the origin of your food?
I’m asking myself a lot of interesting questions about my food and where it comes from. I understand that it is increasingly difficult to connect with the exact animal or plant that produced my food. But it is far easier, and more satisfying, to connect with the man or woman or family or community that grows your fruit, or dries your biltong, who bakes your bread or who pick the grapes for your wine.
Over the holiday season, we gather around dinner tables or picnic tables (depending on your hemisphere) with those we feel closest to. Food is a very strong symbol of togetherness, of community and family. Throughout this year, I’m going to try not only to connect through food, but to connect to my food and its source. I’m going to try celebrate the food and the people who have worked hard to produce it for me, as well as relish the occasion. My aim is to become a Conscious Eater.