By Margaret Hedderman
So… the other day I was walking past the meat section in my local grocery when I heard oinks and moos. Now, under normal circumstances, barnyard noises don’t give me pause, but, then again, chunks of raw meat generally aren’t very vocal. I stood there with my shopping cart, blocking traffic, as enlightenment dawned upon me. The loudspeaker was actually oinking… and mooing at me. Does this bother anyone else?
Apparently not. Pig-cheeked eaters gathered to the supermarket trough as though summoned by the appetizing sounds of pre-slaughterhouse animals. (I’m still blocking traffic, by the way.) Is this how the meat department gets its kicks? Invoking images of Babe and those talking California cows? Or maybe they’re just trying to remind us of where our food comes from. Kind of like those pictures of curly-cue piglets at the BBQ joint.
Then I remembered where I was. The grocery store: a world of labels, food pyramids and multi-syllable mystery ingredients. It’s a place where 90% of the food doesn’t even resemble food (and most of which shouldn’t even be considered as such.) Americans have lost touch with their food. Author Michael Pollan has actually made a career of writing on the subject. (Omnivore’s Dilemma is an excellent read, by the way.) It’s not hard to see why. For many kids, breakfast comes in a bright box with a cartoon rabbit and dinner comes on a plastic plate, wrapped in plastic, inside a plastic box. Apples no longer come from trees. They come pre-cut in a plastic box in the refrigerated section.
This disjoint between our eating habits and knowledge of food has not only lead to major health and weight problems in Western culture (note: it’s not just America anymore, baby), but also, and just as importantly, to a severance in our food traditions. Once upon a time, we displayed a certain reverence toward our meats and vegetables (and the land from which they came). Gathering food was not as simple as driving to the supermarket and picking up a TV dinner.
Now, I’m not knocking grocery stores. The only successful crop I have ever harvested was hops. I would die without Sainsbury’s. But, standing in the meat section, listening to cold cuts moo, I find a disturbing change in our food value system. If we as Americans have lost all touch as to where our food comes from, how can we respect the land, the farmers, the animals, the seeds, the plants, and, finally, our bodies in which these items eventually end up?