America’s Food Culture

A great except from Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver (which I will fully review as soon as I’m done):

“…We have yet to come up with a strong set of generalized norms, passed down through families, for savoring and sensibly consuming what our land and climate give us. We have, instead, a string of fad diets convulsing our bookstores and bellies, one after another, at the scale of the national best seller. Nine of out ten nutritionists (unofficial survey) view this as evidence that we have entirely lost our marbles. A more optimistic view might be this: these sets of mandates captivate us because we’re looking hard for a food culture of our own. A profit-driven food supply industry had exploded and nutritionally bankrupted our caloric supply, and we long for a Food Leviticus to save us from the sinful roll of cheap fats and carbs.

What the fad diets don’t offer, though, is any sense of national and biological integrity. A food culture is not something that gets sold to people. It arises out of a place, a soil, a climate, a history, a temperament, a collective sense of belonging. Every set of fad-diet rules is essentially framed in the negative, dictating what you must give up. Together they’ve helped us form powerfully negative associations with the very act of eating. Our most celebrated models are starved people. But we’re still an animal that must eat to live. To paraphrase a famous campaign slogan: it’s biology, stupid. A food culture of anti-eating is worse than useless.

We’re a nation with an eating disorder, and we know it. The multiple maladies caused by bad eating are taking a dire toll on our health–most tragically for our kids, who are predicted to be this country’s first generation to have a shorter life expectancy then their parents. That alone is enough to give us pause. So is a government policy that advises us to eat more fruits and vegetables, whole doling out subsidies not to fruit and vegetable farmers, but to commodity crops destined to become soda pop and cheap burgers.

At its heart, a genuine food culture is an affinity between people and the land that feeds them. Step one, probably, is to live on the land that feeds them, or at least on the same continent, ideally the same region. Step two is to be able to countenance the ideas of “food” and “dirt” in the same sentence, and three is to start poking into one’s supply chain to learn where things are coming from.”

What do you think — does American have a viable food culture? Where does it go awry? Where does it work?

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