Food is More Than What We Eat

Is food important?
The answer is obvious, but not for the reasons we think. Yes, we need food to survive. Our bodies need nourishment to give us energy to move and think. And even though it is theoretically possible to survive for a while on nothing but water (Mahatma Gandhi’s record was 21 days), it isn’t advisable, unless maybe you’re using starvation to prove a political point (that still doesn’t make it healthy, by the way). Food has always had a political aspect to it. It can be as simple as the wealthy having access to and developing tastes for foreign dishes, or to the more extreme “Let them eat cake,” attributed to Marie Antoinette, a phrase which showcased the rich’s obliviousness to the plight of the poor, and is linked to the French Revolution.

Nowadays, it is easy to find restaurants that serve authentic cuisine, as well as to source what used to be hard-to-find ingredients for international dishes. This, fueled by the rise of celebrity chefs and food bloggers, has turned food into yet another way of expressing one’s personality. In an age where almost everything is backed by a big corporation, what we put in our bodies has become one of the few things that we can exert some sort of control over. “I only eat vegetables.” “I only eat what our hunter-gatherer ancestors used to consume.” “I only eat food that corresponds to my blood type.” And if you have sufficient space and/or are anti-corporation, “I only eat what I grow in my backyard/ garden/ farm.”

We have become what we eat, our meal choices reflecting our lifestyles simply because we have the time and money to make it so. A starving man won’t say no to a burger just because he’s vegetarian. In extreme cases, a man won’t say no to human flesh just to keep from dying. But for many of us, food has become a way of exploring ourselves. Our pickiness, even our willingness to eat whatever is put in front of us, is a signal to the world of what kind of people we are.

In a world where “brand” is sadly becoming synonymous with “personality,” food is but another aspect of the selves we want to sell. This may be a good or bad thing, depending on how you look at it. At best, it heralds an opening of new possibilities, the widening of our already ever-growing dining options. At worst, it becomes a different form of narcissism, judging others by what they will deign to put in their bellies.

Yes, food is important. But what is even more important is not letting the thought of it consume us.


Yvette Natalie U. Tan is a multi-awarded author of horror fiction and the Agriculture section editor of Manila Bulletin.

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