Friday, December 11, 2009

We Live How We Eat

Cleaning up some older newspapers this morning, I came upon the back-page essay of the October 18 New York Times Book Review. It's called "Families, Class and Culture," and was written by author Arlie Hochschild.
Hochschild points out that Americans "step into and out of relationships faster than couples in Europe, Japan and Australia." So-called family values still may make a majority of the population opt for the public commitment of marriage, but a significant (and growing) number of these people also divorce, sooner or later. They may not be commitment shy (a common complaint), but they are emotionally restless. (The trend is not so much monogamy as serial monogamy - as they go on to marry/cohabit again, sometimes many times.) In the other parts of the industrialized world (presumably chosen as comparisons for their comparable degrees of modern benefits and afflictions, which may affect family values), couples stick together longer.
Interesting, of course. But what struck me was the parallel she drew between this in-and-out mentality and fast food. Easy, cheap, and quick belly filling not only resembles easy, cheap, and quick pairing, it actually may influence the phenomenon. It forms a not-so invisible cultural influence that shapes our mental processes. Those include how we feel about other people.
In a book I have been writing for some time, I argue that food choice has shaped the human brain, particularly where our relationships (and, by extension, the family unit) are concerned. Does the way we eat dictate how we live, how we love?
I agree with Hoschild's suggestion that "slow food" - a backlash to fast food - could be the new model for our relationships. Perhaps we would take our time and think twice before forming a household with someone if relationships weren't so "cheap."
I wouldn't want divorce to return to being the difficult and shameful event it was when I was young - being trapped in a truly bad marriage is a nightmare - but the pendulum may have swung to the other extreme. When the door to the room is half-open all the time, are you as careful with whom you choose to share that room?
We have harmed the planet with our cavalier attitude towards the living beings we raise and catch for food. Hundreds of millions of people take for granted the fact that millions of creatures live and die horribly for us. Life is cheap - maybe it always has been, on some social or cognitive level. But that doesn't mean that some reflection on this general disregard would be futile.

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