Why do you eat what you eat?

Over the last 70 years, food has undergone a significant global change. In the mid-19th century, the industrial revolution brought about the dawn of the food industry as we know it. The mechanization of labor, the rural exodus, the incorporation of women into the workforce, and agricultural discoveries related to mass crop production led to sustainable economic growth in the industry resulting in the first large food companies.

The Green Revolution, on the other hand, was the period that began after World War II marked by a significant increase in agricultural productivity in the United States mainly through the introduction of pesticides, fertilizers, antibiotics, genetic technology, and robotic production.

The beginning of the food industry poses a problem at the food level by changing the priorities of consumers when choosing their food. And by consumers, it actually means women. The housewife has always been the target market for the food industry as she is the one who decides where the family budget for food is spent.

However, the latest wave of feminism has broken away from the domestic role to which women have historically been subjected, escaping from the kitchen to develop personally outside the
roles imposed by patriarchy. At least from one of them, the kitchen. But the quest is for equality, not role reversal. Therefore, in the urban context, no one is currently committed to sustaining and maintaining the culinary heritage that has sustained the perception of what we should eat for so many centuries.

What to eat, when to eat, how to eat, or what NOT to eat are questions that we are currently looking for an expert to answer. The billion-dollar diet industry, along with ultra-processed foods,
suggests alleged “solutions” to these questions exclusively from the individualized consumption of food. We look for specific diets, quick results emphasizing body image, scientifically evidenced
foods or regimens, superfoods, synthetic supplements, and even magic ingredients.

The questions remain the same, but the answers have been changing and somehow globalizing. We are deciding what to eat based on capitalist values. Food marketing uses advertising to influence consumption as with any type of product, but food consumption has physiological limits that when altered generate disease, and as with the tobacco industry, advertising does not include the harmful effects or consequences of consuming a diet based on the solutions offered by the industry, we trust that the products are healthy based on safety features, completely minimizing nutrition.

“Saving time” is one of the most successful added values in food marketing. After all, you need to save time in the kitchen to manage to nourish yourself in the half-hour lunch break of your seven- to eight-hour shift. The problem lies with the individual and is solved by prioritizing productive time over self-care at mealtime.

But when the value of saving time reduces the nutritional value, what are you really valuing?

We know that the most direct impact of what we eat is on our bodies through nutrition. From this perspective, everything we decide to incorporate into our body will affect us in one way or another, manifesting itself in various states of health, so deciding what to eat becomes a tool for self-care and responsibility over our bodies and those we are responsible for as caregivers of children or dependents. But is this the only impact generated by our diet?

When we evaluate the cost of a product, we limit ourselves to the information on labels, which do not include the food production chain.

The consumer only sees the price and compares it to the fresh food and decides to replace the work of preparing and pre-processing the raw material with that of opening a plastic bag that traveled kilometers in freezing trucks that use fossil fuels, after someone else, in the production plant, did the previous work with basic minimum labor rights.

Limiting food to personal impact individualizes decisions when purchasing food. Even when aware of one’s own consumption of other types of products, decisions seem to be driven by capitalist values that do not consider the environmental, social, and economic cost of food. Decisions, when it comes to food, are made every day, several times a day.

Food folklore is specific food guidelines that solve organically and culturally all the concerns about nutrition and cooking that nowadays seem to be so complex. What to eat, when to eat, how to eat, or what NOT to eat? These are questions that have been answered for centuries of collective history, in “grandmother’s” recipes, in the lost culinary heritage.

What we call “traditional cuisine” is what a given population eats and represents the political, economic, biological, and cultural relationship of a given region. The recipes inherited by generations are the result of centuries of trial and error that perfected in a transversal manner the way of eating according to the resources available depending on the area, season, and market. But the problem is not individual. It responds to a model that profits from the basic needs of existence and privatizes even garbage, prioritizing food waste over the human life of those who live in famine.

According to the WHO, there are more than 800 million hungry people on the planet even though, according to the UN, the annual food waste exceeds 900 million tons, this type of productive incongruence that affects Public Health globally can only be explained through inequities in the distribution of resources.

It is in relation to these problems that food groups and trends have arisen that seek to promote responsible food consumption. Together with a social resistance, which informally or formally seeks the reconfiguration of local alliances between producers and consumers, promoting direct trade and local production, rethinking alternative food values involving nutritional, environmental, economic, and social aspects.

At the individual level, developing a food ethic that considers the cross-cutting impact of the food we consume is one of the most important forms of activism to stop financing monopolies that control the world’s agri-food chain. This ethic can be practiced by buying locally produced, seasonal, and fresh food. Also by revaluing cuisine as a resistance to the ultra-processed industry and, in the case of buying, preferring locally produced products with ingredients grown in the same region. This while demanding, in parallel, the construction of integrated policies that ensure the coherence of sectoral policies that respond to the current challenges of undernourishment and malnutrition starting from the local reality up to the global production systems.

Alexa Gallardo

Chef ejecutiva Akapacha.

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