This article, “How Cooking Can Create Community” appeared in the December 2013 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 78, No. 12, pages 28-32).
It is a lengthy piece that actually covers many topics about food and eating. Including:
- how our culture is settling for “edible, food-like substances” that enable individualistic eating and have far fewer nutritional & societal benefits.
- the intersections of food and faith.
- the historical, cultural, and global connections of food and eating.
In this post I have put together an excerpt of what the article has to say specifically about food and community. Anything in italics is what I added. But there is a link to the full article at the end of this piece if you choose to take the time to read it in it’s entirety. It is a worthy read that moves us to think intentionally about food and how we eat.
“HOW COOKING CAN CREATE COMMUNITY”
This famous food author insists there’s much to be gained from sitting around the table and sharing a home-cooked meal.
For award-winning author Michael Pollan, food rules. And in today’s culture, it seems as though we are always being bombarded by the latest recommendation for the best way to consume food.
When he scans our current food culture, Pollan sees how we’re being encouraged by food marketers to snack on individually packaged, processed foods as opposed to real, natural food. “The food manufacturers love us to snack because those are the most profitable products,” Pollan explains. “They want us to buy this up because they’ll sell more food that way.
“We’ve gotten away from the real meaning of food, and the power of food, too,” Pollan says. “It’s an enormous loss because there’s such pleasure. Food can offer so much that we’re not getting.”
One of those losses is what can be gained from cooking a meal at home and sharing it with others around you. “We’re consuming food carelessly with no sense of ceremony, no sense of community,” he says. “We’re eating alone. Twenty percent of food in America is eaten in the car. That’s not really eating. That’s mindlessly fueling yourself.”
What do our choices about food and the way we eat say about us as individuals and as a culture?
In America in the last 40 to 50 years, really post-World War II, we’ve had a large forgetting of what food really is and the fact that food is not just a thing. It’s not just some material good. It’s a set of relationships.
We look at food now and it’s sold to us as just a product, a fuel, a short-term pleasure. In fact, it implicates us in a whole web of relationships with the world.
What’s going on right now, among more and more people, is that we’re being recalled to that reality about food. It’s happening because of great chefs. It’s happening because of writers and journalists. It’s happening because people were missing something in their lives that food has given people historically, which is a sense of community. Social connections are a very important thing that food provides.
What are some examples of these social relationships?
Cooking is very much about sharing and generosity. If you cook, you’re going to sit down and have a meal with other people—your family or your friends or your community. The meal is implied in the process, yet way too often we’re eating alone now.
I talk in my newest book, Cooked, about something called secondary eating, which is a new category measured by the Department of Agriculture. Secondary eating is eating while you’re doing other things: driving, walking down the street, watching television.
Secondary eating is now taking up more of our time than primary eating. Primary eating is a weird term, but it’s the new sociological term for meals, which only take up 67 minutes of our day. We’re moving toward eating alone. That’s a tremendous problem. The sociality of food is the most powerful thing about it.
Secondary eating a very centrifugal meal. It doesn’t pull us together—it moves us apart. That’s happening all too much in American society these days.
That’s what we’re rediscovering. People are very interested in the story of their food. The reason they’re interested in the story is because the story always connects. It connects you to other people, and it connects you to other species. It connects you to your world.
Family or community dinner is one of the most important institutions of democracy. Think of all the teaching that happens at the table. It’s where people learn to share. It’s where they learn to take turns. It’s where they learn to argue without screaming. It’s where they learn the news of the day and the art of conversation.
Cooking has the potential to give us a lot. These satisfactions and these values are available to everybody. Everyone can cook, even if you’re going to cook really simply because you don’t have a lot of time. It’s economical, too. It doesn’t take money to cook. It saves you money.
Time is the challenge. Time is really the challenge, but I’m convinced that we make time for the things we value and have decided are important.