I used to be a literal navel gazer.
Well, almost. I didn’t sit around looking at my navel, but I did pinch it. A lot. Because I was checking for pinch-ability. I wanted to be able to pinch nothing. And so, for years of my life, I arranged my interests and activities around my navel–the over-exercising, the under-eating, the hours in front of the mirror and on the scale. Sad, no? Let me tell you, I have cried actual tears about the years I missed because I was obsessed with the adipose tissue around my navel.
By God’s grace, good things came into my life anyway. And while the story’s too long to tell here, my world expanded beyond my own navel. I forgot to care so very much about things like my tummy, every last crumb of what I ate or didn’t eat and whether or not I had spent enough time exercising at my optimal heart rate. Somewhere in that time, my abdomen expanded quite dramatically behind my navel–twice!–and behold, two new navels! (See above.)
But there are two other things that are important in my life that are sometimes derided as “navel gazing”: writing (and particularly blogging) and food. I remember hearing a Slate.com book club discussion on Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma in which the critics were complaining that Pollan’s locally grown and gathered meal was a “decadent” use of time; that his approach to food was a “fussy yuppie thing.” Writing that’s of a personal nature is also sometimes dismissed as navel gazing, but that’s often unfair–even in writing about his or her own experiences, a good writer aims to say something that’s beneficial to someone else in some way.
Okay, but food? So many people are talking and writing about–and marketing–the whole local-organic-sustainable-green-artisanal-smallbatch-blahblah that it’s easy to start to think, “I’m so tired of hearing how heirloom-whatevers have more flavor–why not talk about something THAT MATTERS?”
Thing is, it does matter. The choices we make every day–several times a day–regarding food–add up. And not just for you, your family, your food budget, your waistline. Nope. From what you spend to what goes to the farmer, to what goes to the processor, to what goes to packaging, shipping, advertising, and on, and on, multiplied across millions of households, these choices add up to a whole food culture. (Which is why you don’t have to stress if you eat junk food once in a while–we’re talking big picture here.) Why does my grocery store carry a bazillion brands of squishy loaves of white bread and NOT ONE GOOD BAGUETTE? Why do stock watery strawberries from California when there are farms all around growing rich, sweet ones? Why do we feed our schoolchildren crap at school as we spend lots of $$$ on everything else?
Diseases caused by diet are America’s top killers, but we talk about food choices as if they are all about us, us, us. (I’m pretty convinced that obesity is largely a creation of Big Food, the drones of which speak in all seriousness about the “problem” of the “fixed stomach”–they want you to eat MORE and to think that your weight is YOUR problem.) The amount of fossil fuels used to bring us all everything ALWAYS from everywhere is outrageous. Our way of eating–super processed, super packaged, and super shipped–creates problems for people here (not least, small farmers) but creates devastation for people (and, yes, especially farmers) in other places.
For me, spending time growing, preserving, and procuring good food (and writing about it) is anything but a navel-gazing venture. Food touches so much–it connects us to one another and to God’s creation in so many ways. Our choices at home add up, home by home, meal by meal, to
a national food culture a GLOBAL food culture. The current one is killing people–not least, children–through equal parts starvation and overfeeding as it slurps oil and belches carbon dioxide.
Okay, that’s really depressing. But here’s the good news. A better food culture–one that’s better for you, your neighbors, the planet–everyone!–is tasty, too. And fun. And you don’t have to change everything all at once. Even little steps–ONE local meal a week, say–add up significantly. (If everyone in the USA would do that, we’d reduce our national oil consumption by 1.1 BILLION BARRELS that week. Really!) So the next time you hear some folks going on endlessly about the heirloom tomatoes or the artisanal bread, don’t make fun of them. Ask them where they bought it, and if they know where you can get some local ice cream. Support better practices and better taste, bearing in mind the needs of the least of these.
And experience some revolutionary joy.