(First published on October 5, 2010, at the end of my 10-mile diet but worth repeating 3 years later)
I’m noticing that the heightened awareness and savory, sweet flavor of being on a 10 mile diet is fading as I expand my circle of food to nuts and cheeses and things that come in jars with labels and more than 5 ingredients. I’m inclined to develop some “food rules” to remind me of the clarity that came through eating here – very here.
Rules, values, ethics, covenants, pledges – these all direct our wayward energy towards “the good, true and beautiful.” Ideally we’re just aware. Present. In blissful union with reality. I wish I were there all the time. But short of that – and we’re mostly far short of that – there are rules of the road to the good life.
I’m not alone in generating “food rules”.
Michael Pollan’s recent short set in his wonderful book, Food Rules, is:
- Eat food.
- Mostly plants
- Not too much.
Another friend’s simple rule: Ï don’t eat anything with eyes.
I mentioned before a diet book that recommended:
- Eat when you are hungry.
- Stop when you’re full.
- Eat what your body wants.
- Don’t eat standing up.
I’ve watched a clerk in a store I frequent melt away. Her rules:
- No sugar
- No eating after 6 PM
- Lots of water.
Vegans have rules. Vegetarians have rules. Health nuts have rules. And locavores have rules. Even breatharians have food rules.
Here are my 10-mile derived truths – which have rules associated with them. Rules that I will surely break but that will be there for me from this day forward to re-orient.
1. All food comes from somewhere. I want to find out where so I can in a way thank those that feed me, reward good practices and protect the livelihood of small to mid-sized farmers (sounds funny, i mean the land not the people). This could be a daunting but fascinating task. Eating local solves that issue so…
Rule: I will purchase as much as possible direct from the producer.
2. Food is love. Producing it. Cooking it. Eating it so that your body may be nourished. Death as an animal or vegetable and rebirth as us, living one more day. Our own death, if we don’t rest and rot forever in stainless steel boxes, feeds life. This doesn’t imply we must slather it with unctuous sanctity , but that we can make a good faith effort to honor the life sacrificed that we may eat. In the community where I lived for 35 years we said grace before every meal. Rub dub thanks for the grub. Bless this food to our use and our lives to your service. Thank you. Yay God. The pausing and holding hands bound us together at the end of busy dispersed days, slowed us down to the speed of savoring, appreciated the cooks, and began the happy ritual of sharing our days as we shared our food. Food is social. I will simply eat more with others, cook more for others, eat out with others. I will glory in my ability to feed people, to take from my stores and make a feast (if only fried rice) for friends.There is no such thing as “food” or a solitary “eater.” We live in community – of people and food and the living world.
Rule: I will say grace, eat slowly and savor-ing-ly, and with others as often as possible in my solo, willful and busy life. I will cook for others as much as possible. From scratch.
3. I am my food system, not apart from it picking and choosing but part of it, giving and receiving. This is a shift from food being out there like an automat where we select this over that. Once you see yourself as woven into a food system, not just a shopper in a market where the system is hidden from view, more than what goes into your mouth transforms.
Try this experiment. Since our eyes are on the front of our faces, we orient to a perceptually 2 dimensional picture that is “out there.” We reach into that picture and grab what we need. We drive into it to get somewhere. Now imagine you had eyes in the back of your head as well. Between your shoulder blades. In the small of your back. At the back of your knees – and your knee caps. Suddenly the stuff of life is around you, not just out there. That’s the shift from being a shopper to being in the center of a food system.
Apart from all the other learnings – the threshing wheat with an egg beater, the economics of paying my neighbors for food they raised – there is this startling shift of awareness that feeds my soul as well as my body.
Rule: I will allow my life as an eater to make me aware of the web of life that supports me, and all of us. I can use a phrase as simple as ‘food system’ to remember.
4. Food is political, there’s no way around it. From raw milk being illegal to politically distorted feedback systems that make packaged food cheaper than real food. From school lunches of pizza and purple milk to ever growing number of hungry in our midst.
Rule: I will inform myself about the food system, the regulations and laws and customs that give us both obesity and starvation. I will vote about it. I will write about it. I will donate.
5. Food is complex. The way we live is shaped around the food we eat even when eating is done in cars, in cities, far from source.
The spread of the human comes from our mastery of food production. Civilization itself has marched across the face of the earth – as Bonaparte said of armies – on its stomach. Feeding. Occupying now almost all niches where energy (food) is available for the picking or planting.
Agriculture, as we all know from our history and geography lessons, permitted human settlements which permitted stratification of societies, money, specialization, slavery – you name it, taming grains and animals gave it to you. The intoxicating aroma and effect of spices and drugs connected the known world, Asia to Europe to Africa, from millenia before the Common Era.
Breakthroughs in food technologies – the Green Revolution, Selective Breeding, Genetic Modification, Industrial Agriculture, even the Farm Bill – solve the problems of starvation while feeding the problems of diminishing productivity and a population that now is so large we can’t all be fed.
Food is complex because of this history and its unintended consequences. The food problem is the overshoot problem which is the annual increase of births over deaths (aka population) problem, and if you want a hot potato try talking about that! I am dedicated to the work of “learning to live well together within the means of the earth.” No amount of “Eat your peas, think of the starving children in China/Korea/Bangaladesh/Pakistan/Africa” can solve our mal-nourishment and mal-distribution problems. They are systemic. Hunger, I fear, is going to creep into lives that thought they were secure. And when we are hungry we are cranky. I don’t know if I will live to see the consequences of our choices in my one short lifetime (when I was born there were 3 billion people on this planet).
Rule: I can nudge the system in the right direction with my choices and I intend to. I will support local sustainable agriculture everywhere.But I will work towards the ideal John Robbins talks about “May all be fed.”
6. Food is highly emotionally charged. People have pride and shame, fear and longing around weight, size, diet du jour, longevity, inability to feed the family, diet related illness. And I am people. I am a lifelong “diet-er” – and even if I were thin as a rail I’d still somehow have an eating disorder since I look at food as a threat or reward, as comfort or sport, as right and wrong – and myself as good or bad depending on which system I’m beating myself up with now.
Rule: I will ground myself in the presence of judgment – of myself, of others, of others of me – and just love the one I’m with. We are all such marvelous day-glo beings, full of color and life.
7. Food is great. Tasty, tangy, creamy, yummy, oily, colorful, salty, biting, sweet, juicy, spicy, crunchy, crisp, meaty, fishy, slithery, chewy, nutty, hot, refreshing, subtle. Lord strike me dumb at least (or dumber) if I don’t fully savor every bite of that miracle called food.
Rule: I will enjoy the sensual delicious act of eating.
8. Food is fun. It’s always there to select and cook and eat, to think about, to learn about, to write about and especially enjoy. It shouldn’t be stuck between “more important things”, like a gas station or pit stop for the body. My agent thinks this endless stream of words that have poured out of me in this last month may be a book. A good one even. Michael Pollan meets Barbara Kingsolver meet Irma Bombeck or Joan Rivers. As i said, “transforming our relationship with food”. 10 mile eating isn’t a new food system. A new set of imperatives. I have stumbled into a new relationship with food. \ I can offer others this way of engaging with food – which may result in more justice, health, appropriate weight, sustainability and fun. What do you think?
Rule: Continue to write about, think about, research, advocate for – and eat – food. Bon Apetit.