Monday, April 6, 2015

Food For Thought; Thoughts On Food

I've been thinking about food a lot recently. Not necessarily about specific recipes and meals but rather about how food is produced, how and where we buy our food and what it all means. Food is one of life's necessities that everyone, regardless of where we live, our race or socio-economic status, individual likes or dislikes, needs to survive. Some people have an abundance of food while others regularly go hungry. Some people live to eat while others eat to live. Simply put, food is something we all need and rely upon for our survival. Because of this food should be the great equalizer but sadly, it is not. Rather attitudes towards food and access to food are often the issues that divide us the most.

The topic in my French class for the past few weeks has been food. In learning the words for various types of food, we've been discussing how and where to shop for items both locally and in our home countries. Half of my class if comprised of Americans with the other half hailing from a mix of European countries. Although I was already aware of this on some level, it was quickly reaffirmed that so many Europeans shop for their food in local markets whereas us Americans tend to rely on supermarkets and big box stores for our daily nourishment. Urban areas can be food deserts and community markets, filled with organic produce are much more sporadic and difficult to find, are often located in more affluent neighborhoods and have prices that put the freshest of fruits and vegetables out of reach for many consumers. I'm a huge fan of the farm share trend but the often significant financial layout required to "buy in" to them at the beginning of the season makes them cost prohibitive for many American families. Class conversations quickly made it apparent that the differences between food resourcing in America and in Europe and what and how we eat are as far apart as the ocean that separates us.

Above all, as humans we seem to be creatures of habit. We crave the familiar and seek it out. More often than not we want, no demand, convenience. This probably explains why so many American military families posted overseas actively seek out their military commissaries (a.k.a. grocery stores stocked with all of the conveniences and foods from home) for a little piece of well traveled, overly processed comfort food from home. It is familiar, it is comfortable and it is how we most likely shopped and ate back home. If we grew up in households where convenience foods were the norm odds are we live the same was as adults. If we grew up eating fresh vegetables instead of canned, enjoyed home cooked meals eaten around the dinner table and had sugary snacks were kept at a minimum, we are probably recreating that lifestyle in our own homes. If our parents cooked we are more likely to cook ourselves. Perhaps this is why eating and shopping local remains the norm in Europe since the tradition of village markets, local farms and family dinner being events for all ages are the norm rather than a trend. This may be a broad sweeping statement on my part but I in my experience, access to quality food is less of a class issue in Europe than it is in America. I  feel as though quality food for people from all walks of live is valued much more in Europe than it is in America. I love that about Europe and it makes me feel a bit sad about America.

And that brings me to where I am now. Shopping "like a European" is a habit that I have fallen in love with and am increasingly practicing in my own household. With two different expansive markets held in my neighborhood each week and others held in neighboring towns daily, shopping at these local markets is the easiest food option for me. And as I sit here and type this, I have homemade pizza dough rising for tonight's dinner. The flour and yeast were purchased at my local Belgian supermarket but the toppings--fresh cheese, locally made sausage, fresh artichokes, tomatoes and herbs--were all purchased at my local market. For the most part I know where my food came from--here in Belgium as well as neighboring France and the Netherlands. It is local and fresh and minimally processed. And this is how my family eats on most days. The source of  my food is important to me and regardless of where I am living, I will go out of my way to buy from fresh and local sources.

But all of my food choices are clearly ones of class and privilege. I have the means, both financially and time wise, to decide where and how I will shop. I can afford to shop for locally grown organic produce, which here in Europe is often cheaper than mass produced and imported items. And because I am currently living in Europe all of this great quality food is literally sitting at my doorstep. I am also quite positive that once we are back in America we will continue to shop and eat the way we do now. If that means trekking out to a farm to buy organic milk or buying into a farm share each spring, it is something that I will do.

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