Last semester I took an Archaeology course and my professor brought in some roots that Native Americans used to subsist on in the Spring months. I can’t recall the name of the root, but I remember looking at it, traces of dirt remain, and it smelled of Earth. It was the most natural thing I had held in years, but it felt so foreign. This came straight from the ground, how WEIRD. No fertilizers helped this grow…how odd. It was moist, bitter and Earthy. Full-bodied and crunchy, I had to have another. This was the natural way of things, I remember thinking to myself. How often do people pluck their own vegetables and eat them straight out of the dirt? This is how it should be done. Why is the concept of natural food so distant to society?
I’m still reading The One-Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka, and it’s becoming increasingly challenging and illuminating. While reading late last night, I came to a passage that shocked me and had me wondering about culture, food, and the connection between the two well into this afternoon. After all, I study cultural anthropology and religion, so this debate had me quite puzzled, in a good way. This is the passage that rattled me and had me examining my own values and those of the United States.
“Culture is usually thought of as something created, maintained, and developed by humanity’s efforts alone. But culture always originates in the partnership of man and nature. When the union of human society and nature is realized, culture takes shape of itself. Culture has always been closely connected with daily life, and so has been passed on to future generations, and has been preserved up to the present time.”
I understand this, and agree. Culture is a product of people and nature coming together and learning and growing together.
Fukuoka is discussing culture in relation to agricultural production and consumption, and he goes on,
“Something born from human pride and the quest for pleasure cannot be considered true culture. True culture is born within nature, and is simple, humble, and pure.”
This is where I stop, reread, and think. When I consider agriculture in the U.S. today, which is based upon large yields and high production. Where we use massive amounts of pesticides and fertilizers that are a horrible detriment to our environments, where we pump our produce full of coloring agents and preservatives, where we throw out about half our crop because it is not the ideal fruit or vegetable, it has me wondering, is there anything natural to our food? Even our meats and milks are pumped full of hormones and additives. Agriculture today is not natural, simple, humble, and certainly not pure.
Our food is based on more, more, more, no matter the cost. There is no humility. It is a blatant disrespect to nature in many regards. We poison our bodies and our Earth for the sake of monetary profits.
If Fukuoka is right, that TRUE culture is born within nature, than the United States could be said to not have a TRUE nature.
In the land of McDonald’s and Taco Bell, where the food is ridiculously processed, Applebees where half of what’s cooked is frozen and then microwaved, where hunks of beef brought from a slaughter house is considered normal, do we really have a pure culture? What is American culture, anyway?
In the context of food, what is the typical, cultural, American cuisine? First thing to my mind was a cheeseburger and fries. The burger is probably heavily processed and contains hormones and additives applied to add flavor and longevity. These additives are needed because the cow from whence the burger came was raised in a dark and filthy industrial center, where it was pumped full of antibiotics to keep it from dying due to its unnatural diet. The wheat of the bun was probably grown from GMOs, the cheese is probably highly processed, the fries were frozen for weeks and the potatoes were grown using fertilizers and pesticides. This is not natural, pure, humble.
So much about American food is unnatural, the United States at this point could be called the Land of Unnatural and I don’t think anybody could argue with it.
Therefore what is American culture?
What do our production and consumption practices of food say about who we are? Who are we as a collective and as individuals, consuming all this unnatural food as if it were the norm?
Many Americans know that our food is pumped full of preservatives, colorings, and additives, yet why is no one talking about it? Why do we put these frankenstein foods into our body?
Are we indifferent? Are we a culture of not caring for our bodily selves? Are we a culture so absorbed in our own lives that we pollute our bodies and the bodies of our loved ones with nasty food because it’s convenient?
What has food in America become?
What is the culture of America?