Sunday, July 5, 2009

Are food and politics intertwined?

I just read this interview from Michael Pollan, author of the Omnivore's Diet and In Defense of Food, on Pollan is a popular interviewee and never seems too shy to share his opinion (in good taste though). The interview discussed Pollan's thoughts about the politics of food and how food is viewed in his own home. I found a few interesting things he said about his once picky-eater son who has now embraced food.

But he basically found food scary and overwhelming. And so he controlled that by eating food that was as bland as possible. He was the same way about clothes. He didn't like any variety in clothing. So he wore black clothes for about eight years of his childhood. Ate white, dressed black. In both cases, in retrospect, he was trying to reduce sensory input. It was overwhelming. Smell was overwhelming, taste was overwhelming, colour was overwhelming. And he just had trouble processing.

He never mentions if his son ever had anything like autism which could explain part of this since overwhelming sensory input is a known trait. But I wonder how true this is for other picky-eaters who do not have a diagnosable illness. Is it about sensory control?

Later in the interview, Pollan says:

Kids' relations to food are complex. This generation will have its own neuroses, that's for sure. But it's very concerning that there are such high levels of allergies among kids nowadays. The reasons are as yet unexplained. But I've heard that it has complicated kids' relationships with food because so many have allergies, or think they do.

I've discovered cooking and gardening are great ways to get kids to reorient their relationships to food in a positive way. Kids will eat things that they'll pick in the garden that they'll never eat off the plate. Or they'll eat things that they've cooked themselves. Because I think a big issue for them is control. Food is really, I think, a primary political phenomenon. It is the first time you can control what you take into your body, and the first time you can say no to your parents and assert your identity. So I think food and politics are very intertwined.

I agree that helping gardening and cooking are good ways to help children develop a positive relationship with food, but I am unsure of his comment that food is about control. I know he is probably talking more from personal experience than about eating disorders and dieting here, but if we look at it in that context, isn't that one of the misconceptions---that food is about control? Are food and politics that intertwined? I think on a national/global scale, food and politics do mesh, but I don't know on a personal level. If it is as he says, I think a lot of us are actually trying to shed some of the identity we have placed on ourselves or as others have seen us.

What are your thoughts?


Kristina said...

I admire Pollan but would hesitate to describe myself as a "fan". Maybe it's because he promotes a hyper-consciousness of food, which isn't necessarily bad, but there are times when I think it is okay to step away from over-analyzing food and our choices. I understand his focus, trying to raise awareness about the sources of our food and about the food industry in the US. I think THAT part of food can be political, same as choosing to be vegetarian. But I don't think that a young child sees his/her food choices as being about control. Maybe the parents do, or maybe their actions make food choices about control (as I remember that I hated hominy with a passion and my parents forced me to eat it).
Interesting question, and at least Pollan does ask us to think and to engage.

Tiptoe said...

I agree with you about Pollan. After I read In Defense of Food, I felt guilty for not being as hyper-conscious as I was, though I still am by most standards.

I think what he has to say is good food for thought but sometimes, it seems too hard in the long run. And indeed, ties everything in politically.

What are your thoughts about Alice Waters? She was recently on 60 minutes. She's kind of considered the "mother of the slow food" movement. I agree with what she says, especially that she thinks everyone deserves good food, but still, it's hard to practice it all on a limited budget.

Kristina said...

It's funny because, as you say, she is the "mother of the slow food movement" and while I've read people whom she has influenced, I haven't read HER (articles about her, yes). I am familiar with her restaurant and with her push, which I agree with on one level but, like you say, it's hard to practice on a limited budget or with limited time.
I suppose that is what I find so frustrating/sad - this food-consciousness movement seems to be relegated to those at the middle-class to upper-middle-class end of the socio-economic spectrum. I'm not saying that people who are on a tight budget CAN'T eat well, but it certainly is more difficult, particularly if we are talking about fresh, locally grown food (I'm not saying "organic", by the way).