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Musings

What’s On Your Plate in 2018?

Do you make New Year resolutions? I don’t. Not any more. I don’t even make goals. Murphy’s Law operates in my life with the efficiency of a bicycle and the ferocity of Eddy Merckx on the pedals. Whether horrific or splendid, every event in my life is a surprise. It’s all very New Age – this living in the moment thing. I don’t recommend it for everyone, however.

Anyway… Resolutions.

Now that we are four days deep into a new year, you may have put down as one of your goals/hopes a desire to eat healthier. Making better financial decisions, travel, and going to the gym are among the top resolutions made by people who have been blessed to see the beginnings of a new solar cycle. As you know, most people fall off the proverbial wagon by the time the first 30 days are up. Changing one’s eating habits is one of the most difficult tasks one can undertake, as it requires unlearning decades of indoctrination on how to feed oneself. For instance, I’m on my second salad of the year, and I’m already over it!

The conversation around food has taken dynamic turns over the last few decades. With the introduction of GMOs, aquaponics and the shrinking of arable land upon which to farm, there is less talk about what we eat and grow and more about WHO determines what we consume. The food supply chain has been taking on an acute pyramid shape, to the benefit of a core group of providers. The merits and impact of this model is something better debated platforms like the Journal of Agricultural Economics. What I really want to talk about is the aftermarket aspect of your trip to the market: what got onto your plate and how.

I’m a bear. I eat ’cause I must.

On SABC’s radio program today, there was a social psychologist that spoke about the manner in which human beings eat. She noted that we are the only beings on the planet who eat not just for nourishment, but for posturing and show as well. It’s true. A bear doesn’t forage the undergrowth of his woodland home looking for clusters of berries defined by perfect symmetry, nor does the bat reject a mosquito because its not the right hue of black. They eat because hunger drives them to. Aesthetics form no part of that equation. To boot, neither the bear nor the bat is concerned about what other bears or bats might think if they were seen eating fruits that looked like they came off the back of a turnip truck rather than the glossy aisles of Trader Joe’s. We are the only species that consumes food with the judgments of other humans in mind.

Food is a very powerful tool. What one has on their plate has the ability to speak volumes before one has the chance to utter a word. Those hasty projections, whether negative or positive, are often heaved on the shoulders of the poor and economically disenfranchised. Sometimes, these groups will take the burden of ‘posh’ eating upon themselves for myriad, personal reasons.

What does your plate say about you? Well, if you start your day with a bowl of yogurt and rye toast, it might say that you’re cosmopolitan, health conscious and upwardly mobile. If you began your day with a cup of amasi and brown bread, it connotes poverty. In reality, both amasi and yogurt provide the same nutritional value but only one has an aura of prestige around it. In this same radio program, the psychologist noted that there were subjects in her study who after moving into the city from the rural farm areas admitted that they loved amasi, but would never drink it in their new urban areas. They would rather save money and buy yogurt instead, so as not to be perceived as inferior in their new environment. Amasi – for them – is negatively associated with poverty and backwardness.

Upon reflection, this is not a peculiarity that is unique to South Africa. When I reached a certain age of awareness living in the United States, I understood that eating watermelon in public (meaning wherever white people were likely to pass by) was ill advised. A Black person slurping down watermelon was associated with slavery and/or coonery.

We still can’t eat fried chicken in peace, despite the fact that literally every race, creed and culture of bipedal humanoids prepares and consumes chicken in one fried form or another. But see, there is a difference between putting a flat wing in your mouth and pulling out a clean bone, and slicing into a garlic and herb infused chicken breast. They’re both chicken, but only eating one will earn you the label country & coon before you can say, Pass the Durkee’s.

Take a look in your cupboards and refrigerator. What – if anything – has changed about the types of food you’ve bought over the years? Have the changes in location or earning altered what you eat and what kind of food you seek out on shelves? For instance, now that I’m firmly middle class, I won’t touch baloney…despite the fact that fried baloney sandwiches kept me full on many an after school afternoon with their salty bouquet and springy texture. I have a friend who won’t go near a can of soup because they trigger memories of extreme poverty. (Which is odd because at today’s prices, a single can of Progresso will set you back $3-4, taking it out of the category of “poor people’s food. You can probably get more fried chicken at those prices.)

What are you going to eat this year? Are you going to let the judge-y eyes of others prevent you from eating that plate of pig’s feet/quinoa/beets or are you gonna dive right in? Discuss!

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