I came up to write this evening without much on my mind. Today has been another cool, rainy, and gray day (in August!) and I felt on the inside much like the weather felt on the inside. So I began clicking on some of the news links in the sidebar to see if I could find a story that could pull a response out of me. What I learned is The Nation has just published a food issue and one of the articles by Alice Waters is called “Slow Food Nation.” Here’s how she begins:
It turns out that Jean Anthèlme Brillat-Savarin was right in 1825 when he wrote in his magnum opus, The Physiology of Taste, that “the destiny of nations depends on the manner in which they are fed.” If you think this aphorism exaggerates the importance of food, consider that today almost 4 billion people worldwide depend on the agricultural sector for their livelihood. Food is destiny, all right; every decision we make about food has personal and global repercussions. By now it is generally conceded that the food we eat could actually be making us sick, but we still haven’t acknowledged the full consequences–environmental, political, cultural, social and ethical–of our national diet.
I picked up some bananas in the supermarket today because I’m supposed to eat a banana everyday to accompany my high blood pressure medicine. (I sometimes wonder if instructions like that are really doctors’ cute little practical jokes – “tell him to stand on one leg when he takes the pill and then sing the chorus of “Hit Me, Baby, One More Time.”) Bananas are not grown anywhere in the United States. Most of our bananas come from Haiti, I believe. I picked up the almost ripe fruit and checked the price: sixty-nine cents a pound. I tried to figure out any way I could assume, with the cost of shipping and handling, that anyone who picked those bananas could have been paid a living wage. Not a chance. I couldn’t sell the tomatoes out of my garden to my next-door neighbor for sixty-nine cents and make a profit. Someone’s getting screwed so I can eat bananas. When I look at Haiti, I can see how the destiny of nations depends on how they are fed: they are starving and I’m not.
They are also the ones paying the true cost of the banana, not me.
Waters concludes her article by saying:
The pleasures of the table also beget responsibilities–to one another, to the animals we eat, to the land and to the people who work it. It follows that food that is healthy in every way will cost us more, in time and money, than we pay now. But when we have learned what the real costs of food are, and relearned the real rewards of eating, we will have laid a foundation for not just a healthier food system but a healthier twenty-first-century democracy.
On average, the food we eat as Americans travels over two thousand miles before it reaches our tables. We no longer understand that fruits and vegetables have a growing season; we just have it shipped from the other side of the world and expect to pay about the same as we do for what is grown closer to home. Until about eighty years ago, Americans didn’t even know what bananas were. Once American companies figured out there was money to be made in buying up the farms of Haiti and commercially growing bananas, they taught us to eat and to want what should be a treat we get to have when we visit the Caribbean.
Man, I had no idea I was going to end up ranting about bananas. But Waters’ caution about every decision we make about food having personal and global repercussions hits close to home. There has to be another source of potassium that doesn’t require someone else to pay the price for my health.