Finding Meaning in Food
Appreciating the culture, traditions and history of the meals you eat helps make every meal more valuable.
No man desires drink only, but good drink, or food only, but good food;
For good is the universal object of desire.
Plato, The Republic
The Tradition of Food
Everyone is aware that each distinct region on our Earth has their own distinct cuisine, influenced and developed over centuries due to what crops and livestock are native to the region, what trade links the region has, colonisation and subsequent export of culture, and, importantly, local traditions. Many of the dishes we consider to be cultural staples today have only come into being in their current form in the past century or two, but they have been developing towards this point for much longer. It is strange and somewhat disconcerting, then, that in an era such as our own, which is characterised by a high sharing of culture and knowledge than any time prior in human history, are the traditions of cooking in local cuisines going extinct.
A large part of this is due to the industrial and technological revolutions we have experienced in the past century, which have given rise to many such things that hinder the ability of the individual to be entirely local with their consumption: international trade; the refrigerator; fast food; ready meals. The problem began several generations ago, in Western nations, as most problems do begin. With a focus on longer working hours and the commercialisation of pre-packaged “food” products (I use the word “food” in its loosest possible definition here), there was little incentive for families to make meals from scratch. This led to the children of such families not learning these cooking skills either, not only because a working family has little time to teach children such things, but because of the normalisation of the view that all children will need to know is taught in formal education; they are rendered useless outside of it. As time progressed, in metropolitan regions in particular, the tradition of food began to die out, being replaced with other more shallow forms of nourishment such as “convenience”.
Naturally this has a detrimental knock-on effect on health and well-being; during the coronavirus-riddled period of history, childhood obesity levels in the United States rose to 45%. Takeaway meals, frozen pre-packed food and shelf-stable atrocities filled high high-fructose corn syrup have become even more common meal substitutes since many shops closed their doors and real food imports became more difficult in metropolitan areas. How do we fix this?