Sunday, July 01, 2012

food rules.

stricture isn't in my nature. hard lines aren't my way. but ethics is my business and (mostly) my pleasure, and on most views, ethics is a matter of rules and principles (if also love). i'm also a 30-year old graduate student in the humanities who's spent twelve years living in various east and west coast major metropolitan areas, which is to say my friends are a tapestry of vegans, freegans, vegetarians, pescatarians, paleos, gluten-free-ers, and organic only / free-range only / local only meat-eaters. and i've been nearly every one of these myself at some point or other. which is all to say that i've spent a fair number of hours thinking on the ethics of eating. and while i see so many (ethical) reasons to be strict in these matters, i've always thought: i can't be strict about food, because sharing food is a way that people show love, and a way that people show who they are, and i want to be open to anything someone wants to share with me about who they are. i won't not eat what someone makes for me. i won't not eat what other people are eating. but the reasons for stricture (and you know them all already) persist.*

i've also spent a fair amount of time (especially since moving to LA) engaged in critical conversation (with myself and with others) about the stated reasons (mine included) for these dietary restrictions, and, in particular, the tendency to offer ethical or holistic-health type reasons for what are so often, at bottom, just diets, adopted primarily for the purpose of weight-loss and to assuage various body-related anxieties. it's not so much a matter of feeling that anyone's being insincere, as that i'm not sure how one could even know one's own real reasons when it comes to food, in a world so brimming with food- and body-related pressures, often in the guise of spiritual- and health-related quasi-ethical advice. is it enough that i do it, and that there IS a good reason? but i want to know what MY reasons are. and there are some reasons i don't want to even risk having acted on-- and that i especially don't want to have acted on while smugly claiming that my reasons were something nicer-sounding.

anyway, today in the sunday times i read this really nice piece which touches on these issues (mostly the former, and just a little the latter). it's what i'd call mildly provocative, which is about the most i ask of the weekend paper (besides that there be a crossword puzzle in it). worth a read.

*an interesting point that's come up in the facebook comments: despite my qualms about asking others to accommodate any dietary restrictions of MINE, i actually experience the act of making food that accommodates the restrictions of others to be more (and not less) satisfying. it really feels like taking care of someone to make them something pleasing that's within the special limits of what their bodies can accommodate, and it can feel especially like honoring someone to make them something pleasing that accommodates their principles and commitments. it's a funny little asymmetry that i'd never really thought about before.


Drew said...

I, too, find myself enjoying accommodating friends' dietary restrictions. But sometimes ethics - or more specifically, others' purported ethical commitments - get in the way. For those of my friends whose dietary restrictions are imposed for moral reasons, I find myself probing them about the depth of their commitments. If I'm going to craft a meal specifically to accommodate your ethical commitments, I want some guarantee that those commitments aren't fleeting. But maybe I'm just being selfish.

John Henry Eden said...

This post resonates with me after having had lunch at Native Foods this weekend & discussing the absurdity of honey being the result of exploitative insect labor.

"the tendency to offer ethical or holistic-health type reasons for what are so often, at bottom, just diets, adopted primarily for the purpose of weight-loss and to assuage various body-related anxieties."
You capture the sentiment quite well, along with the generalization that these people who have the luxury to afford such dietary restrictions have run out of things to be offended about.