Can Food Heal The World?

Our Western world has never been so well informed about food, nutrition and its impact on health as it is today. When it comes to making the “right” eating choices, however, all this knowledge bears little weight if one can judge—for instance—by the relentless worsening of the obesity and diabetes epidemic.

This is because dietary norms are deeply rooted in social values. And just as social values are difficult and slow to change, so are our eating habits.

“Food rules are never really about food, they express cultural values”, Charlotte Biltekoff, an associate professor of American Studies at UC Davis Food Science & Technology Program, said recently at an event in Berkeley. The small crowd in attendance had come to watch a documentary in the making about the story of the school lunch revolution at the local Unified School District (BUSD). I can only speculate that most people present were internally nodding in quiet assent, as BUSD is the first district in America who starting offering fresh, cooked-from-scratch, nutritious meals to its students (82.4% of whom qualify for free or reduced-price lunches) after a ten-year parent-led campaign.

“Dietary ideals express social ideals—what it means to be a good citizen and a good person”, she added. The war-time propaganda in America, for instance, graphically portrayed the unhealthy doughnut-eater as a traitor and a Hitler supporter.

Food activist Joy Moore is a gardening and cooking instructor for BUSD.

She also emphasized that social crisis and dietary crisis are profoundly intertwined. Wheels started turning faster in my head. Growing up in France, I felt I had understood for a long time that eating is a cultural act indeed. But dietary crisis as a reflection of social crisis? It suddenly seemed obvious but I had never heard it articulated so clearly.

The rush to convenience as progress; the disintegration of families (physically or emotionally); the disappearance of the family meal; the loss of essential, personal skills like cooking for oneself and one’s loved ones; the relinquishing of personal responsibility in general, and with regard to health in particular; the obsession with consumption; the emphasis on quantity v. quality; the expectations of dirt-cheap prices; the destruction of rural communities; the crushing power of corporations over nations and individuals. Is it possible that all of these ailments need healing before we, as a society, are able to revert to healthy eating practices and the promotion of a healthy food chain? Or can we jump-start an effective social healing process by making healthy, conscious food choices first?

I like to think that the latter is valid. That by careful selecting what goes on our plate and in our bodies, day-in day-out, despite the pull of our entrenched habits, we are bound to reflect, and have an impact, on the ills described above through making changes in our own lives. True, it takes great discipline and a support network of people committed to the same vision. But what if?

What do you think?

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Image: The Lunch Love Community project tells the story of the school lunch revolution in Berkeley, CA.


Elisa F.
Elisa F4 years ago

Better, but we still have a ways to go... Thanks for sharing.

Lika S.
Lika P7 years ago

I love to cook, and my son is learning too. It's fun rolling up meatballs and what have you, and he knows from spaghetti and meatballs to stirfry to pumpkin and apple pies. He's a good kid, and he's almost 11. :)

Susy Euglea
Susy Euglea7 years ago

I have OCD and food is a major stressor for me. I've taught myself to cook from scratch so that I know what's in my food (for the most part). I would love to give people in-home cooking classes or just to cook for them so that they have a healthy meal to eat! I run a daycare out of my home and a lot of parents of younger kids tell me that their kids prefer to eat at my house instead of their own! But the older kids - ages 4 on up....prefer eating out or convenience foods. Maybe I'll start cooking extra and send home with my late night parents who just want to run through a drive-thru instead of go home and make something nutritious...... so many ideas to help the world!

Brenda Towers
Brenda Towers7 years ago

I think governments should protect citizens by banning food additives that are known to be bad for us

Nancy P.
Nancy P7 years ago

Natural is the best but remember compassionate is also important...we need to get away from factory farming first.

Rachel R.
Rachel R7 years ago

I hope that it will, and that things like "organic" wont just become boutique items that shops can charge more for because they know that some people will pay. Good fresh food needs to be available to everyone. I was so inspired to hear about disused areas of Detroit being used for gardens, but I don't know what happened next, and I know that some areas of cities can't be used without clean up of the lead etc in the soil!

Sue Horwood
.7 years ago

Changing your diet is very hard. When I got sick I had to radically change the way I eat and it was the hardest thing I have ever done. It takes time and most people say they just don't have the time to cook from scratch. Pity.

Kirsten B.
Past Member 7 years ago

I've been lucky to live in countries which had easy access to natural food for most of my life (discounting a couple of my teenage years). I go by the policy that if an ingredient list is over 3 lines long, it goes straight back on the shelf. If it has more than 2-3 single letters with numbers, it also goes back on the shelf.
Although it's sometimes a nuisance, I shop at 2-3 supermarkets a week, plus the weekly market, the bakery and the farm shop to get the best organic or natural products I can.

My daughter might have just turned 5, but she already has a pretty good idea of what organic means and also knows that her sweets stash is a real treat - it is made up of stuff I can't control coming in from parties and things. She might sometimes complain about me spending so much time in the kitchen and sometimes being given stuff she doesn't want to eat, but there is always a variety of foods on the table and lots for her to try from to broaden her palette.

I was brought up this way, I believe strongly in it, I am passing it on. Yes, my parents are both overweight and have, as they got older, turned more to convenience food. Yes, I am also about 15 lbs on the curvy side and do like some junk stuff. But if most of the food is good and the reasoning for it is sound, it is what counts.

Education starts at home, so it went through history. Maybe it's time to give it a nudge again and educate for the home.

Katie D.
Katie Denning7 years ago

So True! I have lived in The USA now for 8 months and find it really hard to find food that is quite natrual. Everything has somthing added or its pasteurised! We need to stand up and say we want good wholesome food and take the time to cook and learn how to cook again for our childrens sake.

Eryn Underwood
Eryn Underwood7 years ago

Conscious, compassionate, natural, whole-food eating will heal the world!