One day last month a friend sent 4 photos electronically, asking my opinion on which would best illustrate an article about the new local food movement. I kept flipping between them, wondering what was wrong. A bowl of oatmeal lit like a Vermeer. A rustic board with fresh vegetables and bread. A stew pot with vivid vegetables. A garden where people were eating around a picnic table. Can you tell what bothered me?
3 of the 4 pictures had no people in them. No one chopping or cooking or serving or eating the food. And the food looked like an art director had at it. Perfectly cut, arranged and lit. The stew actually couldn’t have been cooked – the food wasn’t appropriately sliced. It was beautiful. But where were the people. The relationships between eater and cook and farmer and land and culture and table and family and sustenance.
I woke up with a start! We now have car ads with no people in them. In the 1950s we’d have the family in the car. Now the car drives itself in the ads, talking about how cool it is. We have decorating magazines with no people on the sofa. Beautiful pictures of architecture with no occupants. I remember an ad for a relaxing vacation. Two Adirondack chairs on a dock overlooking a serene lake. No people. Just chairs and lake. People are no longer “in the picture”. I started looking for evidence in magazines and on the web of a relational world, a world where people cook, drive, build, hang out. Fifty years ago you wouldn’t depict food as just the finished dish. Someone would be preparing it. A family would be eating it.
This is why “relational eating” is the pith of my message. The seed. Root. Kernel. Essence. It’s about reconnecting food with the context of food, from soil and seed, to farmer and forager, to cook and family, to community and culture. Eating is an act of belonging. Relational eating isn’t a diet – a lone act to alter one’s body in light of standards of beauty. It’s a ‘live-it” – food is how we live together.
Of course I googled “relational eating.” I only found reference to pieces I’ve written… so far. But if we all take to heart this reconnection through food to the place we belong, relational eating will be how we describe that.
Beyond that, we’ll have relational shopping (think local businesses where the owners belong to your church or the clerks play Ultimate Frisbee with your teenager). Relational finance (think investing in the enterprises of people you know and trust). Relational building (think barn raising). Relational sex (think commitment and family).
Can we reincorporate humans back into the Matrix of post-modern life? I think food is a great place to start.