Mae Humiston & Sara Gardner | Let’s Talk About Food
The consumption conundrum
Published: Thursday, October 25, 2012
Updated: Thursday, October 25, 2012 01:10
After all we’ve written in this column about food -- what words we use to define it, where it comes from, how it gets to us -- we finally arrive at the discussion of our most basic interaction with it: consumption. We all must eat to live, and our eating tends to attract most of our food-related attention. Consumption, however, does not merely mean ingesting nutrients. Rather, it encompasses the entire process of selecting, buying, cooking and then finally eating food. Each step requires discussion, as both a separate entity and a part of our overall consumptive practices, and reveals key truths about these methods in our current food system.
Before buying these ingredients, an individual must choose them. Let’s take an example: choosing between an apple and a banana in the supermarket. Plenty of factors exist that inform this decision: the cost of each item, their nutritional content and, probably most importantly, the preferences of the person choosing. Based on these criteria, the selector in question will pick either the apple or banana. Magnified to the scale of global consumption, these questions evoke large-scale nutritional, cultural and economic issues, which require equally large and all-encompassing answers through governmental, societal, and collective means. Some common examples of this include the existence of United States Food and Drug Administration to standardize food quality and the never-ending rain of food and drink advertisements to promote consumer choice of specific products.
Then, once the individual consumer chooses one of the fruits, he or she walks to the register and buys it. Again, projected on a worldwide gauge, the simple apple and banana dichotomy transforms into issues of supply chains, subsidies, and income distribution. From there, we deal with food preparation, which for the apple and banana can be as simple as cutting the fruit or as complex as restructuring them through molecular gastronomy. But when we discuss food preparation on a larger scale, we run into questions of food safety, with its many rules and regulations, and the conflicting cooking and serving methods of different cultures.
Finally, we come to the actual act of eating. At first, there is the sensual act of eating: the feel of food, as well as its smells, its textures and most importantly, its tastes. The immediate and tangible experience of food is the most basic part of our relationship with food. Where our food comes from, how it’s distributed, how it’s prepared and served -- all this ceases to matter if the food is not palatable. Good food greatly affects people, to the point where even the apple and the banana can transcend their seemingly simple appearance and become something truly revelatory. Therein lies the pleasure of food: that something so universal and ubiquitous can result in the most unique and pleasurable of experiences.
Unfortunately, amplifying our eating on an international level consistently causes problems. Issues of food inequality run rampant throughout the world, with some sections of the population consuming too much while other segments starve. Meanwhile, the sectors of our global population that are over-consuming are also devouring food items devoid of nutritional value that take a tremendous toll on the Earth (high-fructose corn syrup, anyone?). Herein lies the ultimate issue with our global consumption: we are eating too much bad food.
This global problem can only be solved through individual action. One of the main and possibly the most important goals of the food movement is to enable people to overcome the issues with worldwide consumption. By doing so, we can hopefully resolve the consumption conundrum, one apple -- or banana! -- at a time.
Sara Gardner is a freshman who has not yet a declared a major. She can be reached at Sara.Gardner@tufts.edu. Mae Humiston is a senior majoring in anthropology. She can be reached at Mae.Humiston@tufts.edu