Tuesday, July 14, 2009

On This Bastille Day...

Food. A four-letter word for many Americans, yet it is essential to sustain life, and is one of the great pleasures of life, especially for the French, who are celebrating Bastille Day today.

The French rose up against the absolute power of Louis the 16th's regime by storming the Bastille prison, and have stood up against threats to their food supply, including genetically modified ingredients and homogenization. Remember when the French tore down a McDonalds in Millau, days before it was due to open?

We pride ourselves on our First Amendment rights, yet few take to the streets or utilize the power of the pen (or keyboard) to use their voice against an unjust society, including the degradation of our food supply. A complacent society gets what it deserves in some regard, yet that is to the great detriment of the animals who suffer because of this complacency.

We associate food with guilt, as we should. There is much to feel guilty about. The way it is produced (think GM-frankenfood; pesticides; growth hormones given to animals; deplorable conditions for the animals giving their lives for a cheap, nutrition poor food source). The little value we give to it while prizing instead disposable material possessions. How many people do you know with a household full of stuff, yet they shop at Costco for their food to save a few dollars? And the consumption of it: eaten on-the-go, in front of the tv or checking e-mail, just mindlessly, and so often in disposable containers that languish away in landfills.

"Food invariably brings out the best in the French and the worst in Americans. We Anglo-Saxons starve ourselves counting calories but what we're really craving is pleasure and ritual," observes Debra Ollivier in her entertaining read, "Entre Nous - A Woman's Guide to Finding Her Inner French Girl." (Foie gras mentions aside).

"Just as the American meal reflects our Anglo-Saxon obsession with time (it's fast, functional, and all-on-one plate), the French girl's meal reflects her own culture's obsession with time." Food is so nourishing to the soul, and I believe because of the food we consume and the way we eat it, our souls are left unsatisfied, and we are wanderers, always looking for a new shiny toy (a pair of shoes, a new gadget, etc.) to fill a void left in our stomachs.

We are overwhelmed with choices, yet never seem content. As Ollivier's French friend remarked visiting the states upon viewing a traditional U.S. supermarket, "How many brands of breakfast cereal and potato chips do Americans need to be happy?"

On this Bastille Day, let's pledge to get and stay active against the absolute power of big agribusiness. A revolution of our food culture, not just veganism but also smaller portion sizes, less processed food, seasonal eating as much as possible and the promotion of the sheer pleasure and unity food brings to the body and soul, are all part of the plan.

That is worth raising a glass of kir royale to, in my opinion.

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