Our relationship with food brought us COVID-19. This is a simple fact, yet, the media — and the public — is largely ignoring it.
There is inequality, and inequity, all along our food webs.
We have a neglectful relationship with the way we obtain our food. It requires deforestation, cattle ranch subsidies, cruelty so severe we hide it from ourselves, pesticides and pollution, waste, packaging, and distribution. In some nations, cultural beliefs lead to the elite using exotic food — pangolins, tigers, etc. — as enhancement supplements.
All of these factors, and more, affect your relationship with food.
People are culturally attached to our foodways, and no ticking time bomb is more explosive than questioning people’s culture.
Some people, primarily vegans, have found a way to avoid most of the above problems. For their efforts, they are maligned, abused, targeted with vitriol, and hate. Like environmentalists, they have become the new “freedom riders” in a sense, but they are not recognized, yet, for their heroism.
The big battlegrounds of politics for the last century have been racism, sexism, and class disparity. All are related to our foodways. But hardly anyone talks about food. There are many reasons for this.
Media and political leaderships exist because they have sponsorship and supporters. Almost every kind of industry is tied into food acquisition, sales, packaging, and distribution. Media sponsors, not just food vendors, but every part of the present system that supports our unhealthy food system, is invested in our present foodways system.
If you advertise energy, (usually fossil fuels) restaurants, cars, or any food itself, you are part of the system. If you use — and we almost all do — any of these things, you are part of the system.
The Big Overhaul
The immediate response to COVID-19 is not to remind people to eat healthy, local food. The idea of consuming less, although happening in places, is not being promoted. Less pollution in our air and water may be a side effect of the present crisis, but our polluting agriculture has not been questioned much. Few experts are exploring how zoonotic illness can be kept in check by eliminating cruelty to animals. Our vast numbers of people, and invasion of natural habitats, are factors. Nor are we advised to change our consumption habits to an Earth-friendly diet. Although swine flu, bird flu, and accumulative host and vector species will all lead to more epidemics in the future, most media are mute on the topic.
Most people sense a fight about these topics. And, people, by nature, avoid conflict.
But as more pandemonium ensues, as well as the combined effects of the climate crisis, disaster, refugees, famines, and so on, our only alternative is to alter, if not completely overhaul, our present foodways.
By now, most people have heard that eating less meat will reduce our heavy carbon footprints, but the message is not universally received. In fact, for the most part, people reject this wisdom. It signals a change in attitude most are not ready to consider.
Consider that the greatest ‘privilege’ of all is access to clean air, water and food. In the west, we take it for granted, ignoring the cost of our ways.
Instead of addressing the problem, we employ low-wage workers, often immigrants, to grow and harvest our food, kill and butcher our food, and to sell it via fast food outlets.
When it comes to things like the Wuhan Wet markets that bring us pandemics, their primary use seems to be as a convenient scapegoat. People want someone to blame, (in this case the Chinese) for eating bats, or giving us all bird flu. But all large concentrations of domestic birds and livestock harbor virus. Still, few people are saying “We all have some power to improve our food relationships; let’s do it!”
E-coli, swine flu, bird flu, and accumulative host and vector species illness will all lead to more epidemics in the future, as they increasingly have done in the recent past. The only alternative is to alter, overhaul, our present foodways.
A new version of bird flu is still ahead and it may be more lethal than COVID-19, but we are too overwhelmed right now with the present pandemic.
A complete overhaul of our relationship to food, a reversal to our disconnection to nature in general, and our ability to cherish values that virtually all of our ancestors held are all in order.
What values did our ancestors have?
Like all creatures of evolution, our ancestors valued foodstuffs. When food was found, the tribe rallied around cooperation of protecting the food source. They had hands-on experience with finding food, hunting food, cleaning food, preparing food, and sharing a campfire wherein they talked — most likely — about procuring food.
Until agriculture was universal, they even lived where the food lived, moving from place to place to better hunting and gathering grounds. For this reason, their relationship with a leaf, the stars, the wind, were close, and sacred. The forests, grasslands, and all the animals and how they thrived, were appreciated, and even worshiped.
Today, these relationships are forgotten. We scarcely know the origins of what goes through our guts on a daily basis. We don’t know animals, plants, or places. Food comes in a package, that then becomes pollution.
Our values today reflect the idea that if you have enough you have rightfully succeeded. If someone else has less or wants what you have, they are likely invaders, and don’t share your belonging to the “correct” system.
To be sure, competition has always been with us. Yet, it is the cooperative network of all life, including our collaboration with one another, that has allowed human survival. Until now.
Rapacious capitalism, and the myth of rugged, independent individualism, has been stuffed down our throats with our junky, fast food.
Politics of Passion
Already, there are many people, who recognize this peril. Science, which sees climate disasters, famines, and pollution documents it. Medicine, which sees obesity, heart disease, pandemics, and more, also documents it. Social justice movements, which see food deserts, poverty, hunger, and health crises documents it.
Finally, there are vegetarians, vegans, and nutritionists who have warned, and documented all of this, for some time. But this is not a fight between meat-eaters and those who avoid it.
This is a fight about the way our entire commodity systems is set up. Who profits from pollution? Who profits from diseases based in dietary excess? Who profits from cattle ranching and artificial fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides? Who has lawns? Who wants convenience, not reminders of the cost of convenience? Who holds jobs in these industries? The answer, unfortunately, is practically all of us.
The politics of our foodways is due to a reckoning. If something like COVID-19 does not wake us up, then what will alert us to our self-destruction?
COVID-19, like all coronavirus, came to us because of our disregard for the trafficking of the natural world we once held sacred. Mother Earth, prior to patriarchy, was once universally connecting, abundant, and beautifully framed for our belonging.
Only if we reclaim our food web connections to nature can we recapture the best of our human nature, which is grounded, literally, in the very concept of belonging.
Previously published on Medium.com
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