Recently I have embarked upon path towards freedom. This word, freedom, so often misused and thrown around as to have lost its meaning, is such an important concept to so many people but to be free means to limit one’s freedoms. In my case, I have begun to limit myself to that which I can do myself: self-sufficiency. One of the areas, and the most important in many ways, is the ability to feed your self. To eat is to cook; cooking is a simple and yet necessary activity that has, in the past one hundred years or so, become defined not by us as individuals, but by faceless corporations and conglomerates that do two things: tell us what to eat and provide us what they think we ought to eat. In one sense, these corporations and conglomerates have given us freedoms: we no longer have to cook; but, in another sense, these corporations and conglomerates have taken away our freedoms: we no longer can cook.
It is not only cooking that counts, it is the ingredients as well. These companies have not only begun to cook for us, but they have also provided and created the ingredients that they cook with. This may sound as simple and innocent but alas, it is not. I was in Denmark over Christmas with my Danish family and had the pleasure of “cooking” with my nephew. We made lasagna (a classic dish). My nephew took out a jar of pre-made sauce (with meat), a box of pre-made béchamel sauce, and boxed platter pasta. He poured each of the packaged ingredients over the pasta platters and set it in the oven. Oua’ la! I do not mean to downplay my nephew’s willingness to make a family meal, but what he did was not cooking. However….
According to Michael Pollan in his book, Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation, the definition of cooking has been dumbed down. My nephew’s activity is considered “cooking” by many. Of course language is a social phenomena and we as a society are free to define terms as we see fit. Historically, words of all kinds come and go, get redefined and defined again. But to redefine a word that encompasses a quality of freedom that is only found in the transformation of ingredients to food is to devolve linguistically. To dumb down concepts is to lose freedoms. The consumerism society created by corporations is not concerned with our freedoms, but with profit and profit alone. And so, to redefine words (such as cooking) to fit their ultimate goal of profit at the cost of a higher form of freedom is in fact taking away the freedoms of us as individuals.
Today, most are aware that agriculture, the production of food products, is by in large defined by the production of corn, typically GMO (Genetically modified Organism). The three ingredients that my nephew used were all corn-based (probably not GMO; we were in Europe) in the form of high fructose corn syrup and corn starch. And so once again, what we perceive as freedom is not freedom at all, just like what many perceive is cooking is not cooking at all. Cooking food from scratch, with basic, non-processed ingredients is not the illusion of freedom, but a higher form of freedom. Choosing to buy basic non-processed ingredients also allows others (farmers in particular) to have true freedom and not the illusion of freedom that corporate farming offers.
It is just recently that I have learned the correlation between what I cook, what I eat and my freedom, but as I continue to learn I find that my expectations of what freedom is continues to rise as does what I am willing to eat. For starters, I am not willing to support farm and corporate practices that include CAFO’s (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations), GMO’s, non-organic pesticides. The list of what I will not support continues to grow as does the necessity of my taking responsibility for where I spend my money, what I do with my time, and what I put in my mouth. In other words, as I limit myself, my freedom grows.
Often these issues are perceived as political, and in a way they are, but so is the concept of freedom. By limiting what I will accept I have found that the freedom that I have (through the continued path towards self-sufficiency) grows ever deeper and wider. Michael Pollan puts it appropriately.
“Of all the roles the economist ascribes to us, “consumer” is surely the least ennobling. It suggests a taking rather than a giving. It assumes dependence and, in a global economy, a measure of ignorance about the origins of everything that we consume…” (Cooked, 407)
If we truly are what we eat, then food is freedom in the end.