Why We Eat What We Eat pt 2 – Moralism & Politics

This is pt 2 of my self indulgent posts that lay the basis of what guides us when we make our decisions surrounding foods. There’s no basic thesis in the individual posts, but I hopefully we come to one after a little later. For now, I’m just putting down my thoughts for the sake of have it written down somewhere. You can read pt 1 here if your curious about these kinds of posts.

Again, these posts are inspired the book How We Eat, by Leon Rappoport. But in his book, he doesn’t list politics as a reason we decided on our diets, per se. He does admit it plays a part, specifically in a larger context above other three reasons (Spirituality, nutritionalism, and hedonism) are at odds with one another. He writes “…over and above these intrinsic meanings associated with food, there is another, equally abstract, level at which food can be understood as an unmistakable embodiment of ideology. This occurs whenever specific foods serve, either by design or chance, as instruments or symbols of social or political ideologies.”

Simply put he’s saying that yeah, there’s these three reasons that influence our food decisions, but above that, there’s one that stands alone as most important and deserves to be considered by itself. That issue is politics.

I agree that politics plays a part in some of our food decisions (all you have to do is bring up veal or foie gras in the right groups of people), but to separate it from the other three options gives the influence of politics unequal weight. I’m of the belief that politics is no better or no worse of a reason to make food choices than any of the other three reasons.

First let’s look at the larger political food behaviors. Hunger Strikes are probably the most extreme examples of food decisions based on politics. Think of the significance of these acts, essentially saying “I believe in my cause so much, that I am rejecting a key component of human existence to bring this to light”. Whether or not these acts are effective in communicating these messages is up for debate.

Then there are the boycotts. Thousands of people around the world decide upon which food products they will buy based upon the actions of the companies who produce certain products. From baby’s milk to Fast Food Chicken, political motivations designed to institute change affect the choices we make.

But boycotts don’t just happen at the larger group level. People make individual choices on their foods based, not necessarily on the idea of instituting change, but rather on the idea of not regarding companies with our money because of the behaviors they display. Some people by organic products for this reason, or are vegetarians. Some people avoid corporate owned restaurants or supermarkets.

There’s a larger, cultural aspect as well, specifically with the restaurants. Outside of the United States, many fast food restaurants are viewed with great disdain by older generations as influencing cultural behaviors when it comes to food. There is also an anti-Americanism surrounding the McDonalds, Wendy’s and KFC’s that are located in distant countries, with some believing them as representative of America’s cultural imperialism. That a fair many of these restaurants are popular in these distant locations, again, is for another post to figure out.

Politics shape the way we choose our foods everyday. Far more than many of us realize.


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