Eating is a social act, and I don’t simply mean because we so often eat in family units, prefer to break bread with friends. Eating is a social act because in advanced cultures, technology allows a small percentage of the population to produce a surplus, so that others might take on others tasks, if we are lucky, the arts, if not, war. This was one of the key challenges for the ancient Hebrews, for they lived on marginal land, while the rich river valleys to their northeast, the Tigris-Euphrates, and to their southwest, the Nile, produced enough to support large armies, making the Assyrians, Babylonians and Egyptians a perennial threat despite the defensible terrain in Canaan.
In advanced cultures, like those in the ancient river valleys and like the one in which we live, food then becomes part of the system we call economic activity, the exchange of goods and services, and what you eat very much reflects the values and stratification of the social system, generals and admirals feasting while soldiers and sailors eat hard-tack and ship’s biscuit.
This is true in America today, where the urban poor often live in food deserts, areas where there are no grocery stores, no fresh produce, nothing but the highly processed foods – powdered donuts and sugary drinks – found in bodegas. For many, if you want fresh healthy foods, you have to take a long bus journey to the suburbs, where you can buy only as much food as you can carry, especially hard on the elderly and disabled. Continue reading →