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Food… Twice Removed

Yesterday, we took a look at how our relationship with food has devolved over the centuries. Today, I want to suggest two other factors that have contributed to the demise of food in our culture. They are wealth and industrialization, which are of course bound up together.

Any middle school textbook should be able to document these societal changes over the past hundred years, so there’s no need to rehearse them here. What is pertinent to the topic at hand is that as we shifted (really in a short amount of time) from an agrarian society to an industrialized one, we took decisive steps away from the source of food. Away from farms. Away from ranches. Away from the land. And in doing so, a certain connection with how food arrives on our plates was broken.

Don’t get me wrong. I have no desire to turn back the clock. I would suck at farming. Somehow, I seem to have mastered the art of being able to kill any green growing thing. My lawn being exhibit A. If my family were dependent on my being able to harvest the bounty of the earth, we would all die off within the year.

That being said, it doesn’t change the fact that I (and we) suffer from a sense of disconnectedness when it comes to actually having to be aware of where food came from.

Add to this more and more expendable income as well as increasingly inexpensive food, and you can begin to see an exceptionally strong trend towards taking food for granted. When we don’t feel like the obtaining of food came at any great costs to ourselves, then we fail to appreciate it.

And yet, food looks destined to remain relatively inexpensive. Are you aware of the massive amounts of government subsidies paid to food growers? I realize that this is a complicated issue and that there are probably valid reasons for this being the case, but just know that our tax dollars are spent to insure that food stays cheap.

Don’t believe me? Time to get a wikication.

Our addiction to cheap food is bad. It is bad for small farmers. It is bad for nutrition. It is bad for developing countries. And it is bad for the planet. We get a cheap loaf of bread, and everyone else gets the shaft.

And yet the ills of industrialization don’t end there. Since America’s motto when it comes to food seems to be “we want cheap food and we want it fast,” we’ve grown accustomed to food that has been highly processed for our convenience. Again, doubt it? Today, count how many time you get your food out of a cellophane bag, wrapper, styrofoam, bottle, can, drive-thru window, plastic cup. Not that processed food is morally evil (despite its being nutritionally evil). The more subtle impact of reaching into that bag of Doritos is that it psychologically (and dare I say, spiritually) removes us from the source.

Contrast this bleak picture with another (yet, no more appealing) scenario. A small farming family in a developing country sits down at the end of hard day’s work to their dinner table. Most of the their efforts have either gone directly to putting food on the table or working elsewhere in order to be able to eat that day. A disproportionate amount of their time, energy, and money has gone to the provision of a meal that is probably identical to the one they had the day before. They say a blessing. Not as a ritualistic precursor to digging in, but out of deep sense of gratitude that they are blessed enough to have food that day.

I don’t envy their circumstances.

I do wish I had a keener appreciation for the connection between the plate of food set before me and the gracious love of a God who provides.

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