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A musing on food

Published: October 10, 2014
Section: Opinions


Reflecting on this past weekend, my thoughts inevitably turned to the annual Break the Fast on the Great Lawn. The event is held to allow all students who have fasted for Yom Kippur to participate in a community celebration of its completion, with friends of all religions, regardless of whether or not one actually fasted. The event is always a wonderful time with wonderful food.

Looking back on Yom Kippur in general, I think largely about food. I successfully fasted for the ninth year, and it definitely isn’t an easy task. A large number of my Jewish friends chose not to fast, and I can’t blame them. People and food go together, for lack of a better metaphor, like peanut butter and jelly. Going a full 24 hours without food and water can be quite taxing. We who can afford food eat regularly, and an empty stomach is unpleasant. Yet food is so much more than just sustenance.

Food is an art form and has been for centuries. I saw a comic poking fun at the extent to which we consider food art, chiding the way we so often upload to Instagram pictures of our meals before eating. In the panel next to the one depicting this was a sketch of a cavewoman drawing a cow on a cave wall, telling the caveman to wait a bit longer so she could finish drawing their meal. It was a thought-provoking comic, even if its only purpose was humor. Perhaps even ancient peoples thought of their food as art.

Food is a popular blogging topic. There are numerous websites dedicated to perfecting dishes, improving recipes and making beautiful creations out of food. The Internet is littered with tutorials on cake design and frosting ideas. New flavors and ideas erupt out of the ever-changing culinary landscape. There will always be a new and greater chef to take our taste buds a leap further. How could anyone not call food art? It’s something everyone shares, so much so that it has its own television channel. The amount of cooking and baking shows across the world is ridiculously vast, riddled with celebrity chefs like Gordon Ramsay, and everything from competitions to plain old cooking shows that make your mouth water.

Food is an art form, even if your intention is not to eat the food. There is a series of books and calendars, created by Joost Elffers and Saxton Freymann, all with the same theme: Play with your food. It’s a delightful series of photos of different food items, manipulated with other food items, made to look like different animals or characters or scenes. These charming creations give creativity and imagination to what you can do with your food, besides eating it. It’s an adorable way to allow childhood creativity to come to life. Dolphins made out of bananas, screaming pumpkins, a cucumber car—anything is possible.

Food is cross-cultural and omnipresent—everyone can relate to food. Granted, what we eat from country to country is jarringly different. Photographer Peter Menzel and writer Faith D’Aluisio created a stunningly eye-opening book and photo exhibition titled “Hungry Planet: What the World Eats.” The photos alone are beautiful. The duo photographed 30 families across the world sitting with what, for them, is a week’s worth of groceries. These photos give us a snapshot of what other cultures eat, how much they eat and how much they spend in a week on food. Across the globe, some families spend as little as a few dollars a week to as much as over $700. It’s also fascinating to see the difference across cultures in the amounts of packaged foods consumed versus fresh grains and vegetables. The display is really quite stunning. There’s a family in Sicily whose table is largely covered in bread and fresh fruits, a family from Mexico that has mostly fresh fruits and vegetables, but a dozen Coca Cola bottles too, a family from Ecuador whose foods are entirely fresh grains, fruits and vegetables, and spends only $31.55 a week, as well as a family of six in Chad, who spends only $1.23 on the week’s groceries. Countries like the United States, Great Britain and Norway see a larger amount of packaged, and likely processed, foods, as well as fast food items.

In my opinion, it’s very rare for a person to not have a passion for food. Most people, when asked what their favorite food is, will immediately have a couple dishes come to mind and start wanting nothing more than to eat those foods. It’s uncommon for a person to have little to no opinion on food. Hunger is universal, as is the desire to appease it.

Reflecting so much on food, it’s important to remember that not everyone has access to it. A big part of Yom Kippur in most synagogues is remembering to donate food to those less fortunate. On a day where you are forbidden from eating, allow someone else the ability to eat. Donate what you would have eaten instead in order to strive for a planet where no one goes hungry. Fasting should always be optional.