The Politics of Food
I woke up this morning to the thoughts of a friend, written in absolute disgust from watching the film Super Size Me. I had seen Super Size Me when it was released in the theatres in 2004. A really good friend in high school and I were the only ones who wanted to watch it since everyone else was busy with the bigger pop films at that time. We went into this small pokey little cinema since the theatres did not even want to grant it a nice big cinema, which meant they weren’t expecting so many people. We looked around and there must have been only about 20 people in there, including ourselves, and this really big woman who sat across the aisle.
Now normally I would not have made note of something so superficial, but she was carrying a huge cup of coke and even bigger tub of popcorn. I mean, this is when she’s about to watch a film about how eating junk food makes you ill. Anyway, we were absolutely reviled by the scenes, which was the whole point of the movie. When the film ended and the lights came on, we saw everyone else’s opinions written on their faces except that big woman, who, having finished her “meal” of coke and popcorn, decided to aid its digestion by falling asleep.
Food Inc. goes a lot deeper than Super Size Me in exploring the structure of the food industry and how the monopolies in each link of the supply chain have created a toxic non-democracy in our food consumption. With a lot more research, interviews and analysis, it opened my eyes about the politics of food, just as Super Size Me horrified me into paying more attention about what I put into my mouth for health reasons. Both of them share a thematic overlap in discussing socio-cultural influences, although Super Size Me is more about cultural hegemony and the death of diversity through the imposition of a “fast food mentality”.
Not long ago, I read The McDonaldization of Society, which argued about how this culinary imperialism can survive only because we live in a standardised, homogenised world that rationalised its way into championing efficiency in production, measurability and the false equating of quantity with quality, standardisation and process management. Having studied business management, McDonald’s is doing everything right as a corporation, but in my opinion, everything wrong as a business.
Food Inc. discusses monoculture in crops favoured during the green revolution in feeding the growing numbers of global hungry and how with genetic manipulation, hormone and antibiotic intervention in livestock etc, corporations start possessing patents and licenses to control distribution, how the use of chemicals is detrimental to our health (and bees), and how they are damaging the livelihood of independent local farmers who are probably able to give us better produce for a lower price anyway. Farmers’ collectives, or farmers markets as they are known in Adelaide, are a great way of fostering community spirit over a local supply of fresh produce which would easily rival the cold impersonal ambience of a supermarket.
Supermarkets are the grocery-shopping experience’s equivalent of fast food dining. Whilst I am still personally guilty of indulging in the perceived convenience, oftentimes I feel like I am paying the price, even before I reach the check-out. I see grapes and oranges from California when I live in South Australia, where the Riverland spits out citruses at industrial rates, and I wonder where in the world those poor fruits will end up. Probably California.
So yes, I am understandably disturbed by all these revelations. And yes, I feel strongly about such issues. I recall an incident how I thought it was incredulous when aforementioned friend of mine had asked for McDonald’s upon arriving in Adelaide shortly from France. To his amusement, I protested, “but you’re French!” and it wasn’t a joke at all. Beyond the surface insult of such poor cuisine choice, it was the politics behind choosing to consume such toxic rubbish. It is toxic to the body, it is toxic to the environment, it is toxic to society, and it is toxic to mental health.
Does thinking so much about food make dining less pleasurable? On the contrary, I believe that mindless consumption removes the fun and joy from eating. Knowing where your food comes from, what was put into producing it, and how to prepare it, weaves together a story that can only lend flavour to the meal you’ll be happy to sink your teeth into.
(Image credit: 1.)