Friday, February 29, 2008

Food for Thought

I teach a webCT class on Consurmer Culture and Identity
and one of the students,
who is currently living in Albania,
uploaded some photos to the course website.
One was a
photo of road construction and the poor infrastructure of
a downtown area
in Albania, but what caught my eye was
the hive of activity going on at
a street corner. Vegetables
for sale, food sellers, the shoppers looking over what
become their supper. In an otherwise what many in the West
would consider a
drab or even shabby environment, the colour
and vitality of the food literally
jumped out at you.
That moment in the everyday life of some street corner in 
reminded me of Atlixco, a small town a the foot of
the volcano Popocatapetl in the Puebla State of Mexico
where last June I spent
3 weeks. Like Albania, the small
villages, towns and countryside around the city
of Puebla
(1.4 m people) are poverty-stricken. Atlixco is increasingly
becoming the place for the wealthy of Puebla to snap up
summer villas.

Away from the gated communities that insulate those with
money, there is lots of garbage strewn
The roads are constantly in a state of being repaired. There
are lots
of buildings in various stages of decay--many in
everyday use despite the seeming
rundown look to them.
A beautiful decay that challenges the notion of progress.

 ~ a door to someone's home in Atlixco ~ 

Yet the food that crossed my path as I traveled around Cholula,
Atlixco, Tlaxcala, or Cuetzalan was healthier and fresher than
anything I can find off the grocery store shelves here in

Thunder Bay
. I don't recall seeing much packaging. You had to
bring your own bags.
I had meal upon delicious meal in my 3 weeks, going to tiny
restaurants, some
which were little more than a tarp over
a concrete cubby, plastic resin chairs,
and modified barrels
for cooking on the spot. Even then, a TV up in the corner,

turned on. Small pickups would pull up and deposit the day's
fresh veggies for
the cook/s ~ owners. I ate restaurant food
that has no equal in
Canada. If you are ever in Puebla be sure
to have Chicken Poblana, made from chocolate.

The people of
Puebla invented it.
 ~ La China Poblana Restaurant in Puebla City
Some of the food sellers in Atlixco are actually found outside
the market;
the ones who can't afford to pay the price of a
stall or table. Most were
women; lots were elderly women.
They just set up on the sidewalk, wherever
they could find
an opening to lay out a sheet of plastic and display
their growings.

These two photos I took directly across from each other.
The indigenous women
selling their produce while, looking
down at them, an over-sized fashion
billboard of blonde
babes crisscrossed with the power lines photographers
usually try to avoid getting into shots so as not to
"ruin the view" with
the realities of real life living.
In Cholula and Atlixco you can't avoid seeing 
the workings and problems of life.
Our Western excessively processed diet, controlled by the
food industry and
agrochemical corporations, is a pitiful
excuse for food in comparison to the
bounty of many much
poorer peoples' daily fare. Michael Pollan does great

investigative journalism on food in his new book
In Defense of Food (you can read the introduction to his
book on his website). Of course, the traditional foods

and eating habits of peoples in Mexico is a complex site
with much variance,
including class, use and dumping of
pesticides, labour exploitation, etc.
And food (in)security
is a huge issue. Not having any food to eat at all
(this is exacerbated by neoliberal structural adjustment
policies that compel
many nations to grow particular crops
for export markets, not what is
traditionally grown or what
can feed local peoples). Also, there is lots of junk food
moving in everywhere, too.
But the idea of food as culture, as part of everyday life,
where one shops
for food and exchanges conversation rather
than racing through a till and
harried, driving home in a
rushhour, is still apparent. Food is
not reduced to simply 'diet'
or 'nutrition' or 'healthy eating lifestyles',
but is actually a
cultural practice, a part of what you do socially every
day --
and you enjoy it.

~ a restaurant in Cholula where one lazy afternoon
Abetha, Adialuz and I were the only patrons ~

I sometimes spent entire afternoons sitting in restaurants
eating with friends, enjoying a cold Negra Modelo.
Of course,
this shows my privilege of money + leisure + time + elite

education as I was in
Puebla for a 3wk summer institute on
globalization and women's
rights held at the
Universidad de las Americas Puebla, the most expensive
university in ALL of Latin
America--all expenses paid
by York U research grant monies. Sigh. It can be seductive
to participate
in relations of inequality.

So, one cannot discount the work that goes into growing
that food, or shopping
for that food, or preparing that food,
or cleaning up after making that food.
Someone has to do
the work of food. It takes a lot more time to eat healthy.

Oftentimes, the bulk of the work of food has fallen on
women, particularly
in so-called Third World countries.
They are often the ones who do the most
dangerous work
with chemicals, too, in the plantations for export crops.

That definitely has to be redressed, as well as the
imbalance of privileged
people being able to 'drop into'
disadvantaged peoples' everyday lives.
But moving away from convenience, processed and
prepared foods, packaged foods,
and other corporate
creations that have seduced us into destructive and

unhealthy relationships with food -- never mind the
junk food and food-like
products (i.e. non-food that never
rots) -- asks much more of a person than
simply more
time. It asks you to pay attention to how the food was
and the effects of that on the environment
and people. Many of us would rather
not know the
stories behind the food we buy, or our role in reproducing
inequalities, injustices, and environmental degradation.

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