No such thing as Food 2.0

"As long as we are discussing the implications of technology and the ways it changes humanity (as we are on the opposite page), we ought to mention the ways it has adulterated the most organic process of any we know: eating.

"It is a widely recognized that the American food system, with its chains of supply and industrial synthesis of edible "food" (read: Jimmy Dean’s pancake and sausage on a stick), has affected an obesity crisis. The industrial food system, Twinkies and all, owes its existence to a few forces, and one of them is the mechanization of food.

"But what is meant by that phrase, mechanization of food? It refers to a shift in our national thinking about food that took place mid-twentieth century. In a short time, the idea of food changed from produce grown either at home or by local farmers to something obtained from the supermarket, who obtained it from God knows where. In fact, the supermarket might have gotten certain items from as far away as California. It also refers to the introduction of industrial foods synthesized from organic compounds. Because scientists have had success with engineering the components of corn into new and novel foods, consumers will shell out more bucks for them than traditional fruits and veggies. Sugary cereals and snacks like Cheez Whiz are all progeny of this mechanization process.

"While popular solutions for the obesity problem take it on directly, suggesting more exercise or less food intake, we would like to suggest something more subtle. Let’s re-link the concept of food to the concept of life. Let’s promote the radical idea that what we are eating was once alive itself. And not some theoretical, intellectualized notion of life either. The wheat in our bread and the tomatoes on our plate were once brilliantly vibrantly alive with the same life force which sustains our own bodies. The inspired spark of organic symmetry known, as life cannot currently be artificially recreated. The potatoes before us were once seeds in the blackened earth that amassed enough nitrogen to grow them into substantial tubers until humans harvested them. In the same way, the meat we consume did not roll magically off an assembly line. It grew on an animal which had a brain and felt the sun on its skin (don’t worry, this is not an argument for vegetarianism).

"The point is that our bodies only accept other organic matter as nutrition. So, though we give food all the trappings of a ‘product’, it can never be completely so. Not in the same way it can be true for plastics and metals. It is a reality we must accept even if it roils our grand consumerist design.

"Food comes from a place and a time and a mysterious concoction of verve called life; it consists of cells operating with frenetic wonder, but also, myriad limitations. Cells will very rarely arrange themselves into an energy bar or Cocoa Puffs. There’s probably a very good reason for that.

"And this is true of water as well. It does not appear in rivers and streams captured by plastic design—completely and homogeneously individualized for our consumption. It just isn’t so. Water has a source, other than the tap. And maybe when we realize that, we’ll think twice before polluting such a place.

"The awareness of food as something with its own life force is transformational idea. Technology, such as we create it, should, in the future, enhance and undergird this truth, not ignore or gloss over it.

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