This is a large topic to attempt to tackle in blog-format, so this will be the first post of more to come on the subject. Food has always been a central part of my life (as it is for most of us since we need it to live), and I spend a lot of time thinking about the intersection of food, health, culture, and politics. As I have been getting more involved in socialism, I am starting to see that there is a real need to examine how we look at what we eat through this lens.
Socialism, at perhaps its most basic, is built upon a fundamental agreement that we should have collective ownership and equal distribution of resources, which includes food and water. Indeed, even in capitalist nations, it is generally agreed upon that all people should have food to eat and water to drink, at least enough so that they are not suffering. What is of interest to me is the many distinctions that can be made here. What kind of food? Of what quality? How much of it? How do we evaluate nutritional needs? And, most importantly, who is making these decisions?
As an illustration, let’s create a very simple hypothetical situation. You walk by someone every morning on your way in to work who is asking for change to buy something to eat. You decide one morning to buy food to give them instead, so you walk to the grocery store and are faced with all of the choices our food system has provided us with. You don’t know anything about what this person likes to eat, or what they grew up eating, or what they plan to eat for the rest of the day, but you know that they are hungry and you also want to spend as little money as possible. How do you make your decision?
The options are somewhat dizzying. You could buy the most calories for your dollar (hellllooooo doughnuts!), you could buy something that you think of as healthy (maybe the old standard of a chicken breast and broccoli?), you could buy something comforting (peanut butter and jelly, maybe?)… basically, you are trying to make an already complex and personal decision on behalf of someone else with very little information, albeit with the best of intentions. (See what I did there?)
This all reminds me of a story my mother told me several years back. At the time, she was running the kitchen of a nursery school, and there was a woman who used to come by and ask for money all the time in the mornings. One day, my mother offered to save the woman a plate of food from that day’s lunch, and the woman happily accepted. When she came back by to pick up the food, she took one look at it and pushed it right back at my mother. “I can’t eat any of that… I’m vegan!” she said. Just as she has a right to share in the food resources of our world, she also has a right to choose which ones. How do we reconcile these rights? That is a big question, indeed, and one that I look forward to exploring further here on the blog.