On “The Pleasures of Eating”

I am a huge fan of essayist and modern day agrarian Wendell Berry. And in one of my favorite essays of his, “The Pleasures of Eating,” he notes that eating is an agricultural act. His advice to city folk who ask what they can do to act on this truth is to “Eat responsibly.”

In a progression of seven things that articulate more about this responsibility, he goes from advising people to “Participate in food production to the extent that they can,” (even if that means simply growing some herbs on your windowsill) to “preparing your own food” to learning more about the origins of where your food comes from.

Berry posits that we cede freedom if our food and its sources are controlled by someone else, a pretty hefty declaration. But if you think of it, what would you do if a major drought and/or disease killed off a majority of what you put on your plate? Do you know other places to go to get your food other than a grocery store? Do you know how to garden, so you could produce some of the food yourself? Could you replace a bulk of your diet while still meeting your nutritional needs?

In a humorous, yet very sad, observation, Berry notes:

The food industrialists have by now persuaded millions of consumers to prefer food that is already prepared. They will grow, deliver, and cook your food for you and (just like your mother) beg you to eat it. That they do not yet offer to insert it, prechewed, into your mouth is only because that they have found no profitable way to do so.

True. However, if you look at some of the novelty products in the dairy aisle, the food industrialists come pretty close.

Climate change along with the terribly high attrition of our seed diversity makes me think that questioning how responsibly we eat is worth asking proactively, rather than dealing with a food crisis after it hits.

While I consider myself a pretty responsible eater, I wonder what I would do if the foods I eat were in short supply. In other words, I am not free.

Essays like this one really make me evaluate my eating choices. I am proud that I eat mostly whole or lightly-processed foods. For example, I eat a lot of fresh and frozen veggies, not- to lightly-processed dairy products, almonds, dried fruits, and soups and sauces my spouse makes from mostly whole foods. My garden provides a decent amount of the food I eat in the late spring to early autumn. I have a freezer which, at times, contains a fair amount of preserved food from my garden. Kudos on that front, I guess.

That noted, I have to admit that, again, I am not free. I could be better in the arena of preserving food for consuming in the winter. I haven’t taught myself or sought training on how to can or ferment. And I don’t have a dehydrator, which would be an awesome addition to my kitchen. If I belonged to a CSA (i.e. community supported agriculture), I could certainly preserve more for the winter months. And I could frequent farmers markets much more than I do now.

My advice to you, dear readers, is to read Berry’s essay, part of his book, “What Are People For?” And then, do a self-assessment.

Are you free?