C. L. R. James, the great Trinidadian essayist, once wrote of his favorite sport, “What do they know of cricket, who only cricket know?” The same question should be asked of food. To write about food only as food misses the point, or the many points, about the great universal human experience between birth and death. Food is not just what we eat. It charts the ebbs and flows of economies, reflects the changing patterns of trade and geopolitical alliances, and defines our values, status and health – for better and worse. The famous dictum of the early 19th century French gastronome Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, “Tell me what you eat and I will tell you who you are,” should be expanded. Tell me what you eat and I will tell you who you are, where you live, where you stand on political issues, who your neighbors are, how your economy functions, your country’s history and foreign relations, and the state of the environment. By looking at food, the age we live in is better understood.
History carries tremendous burdens – the age of empire, the Industrial Revolution – that influence our lives and what we eat today. To understand the food of today, the past must be remembered. For the same reason, if future historians want to look back at what life was like in the early 21st century – the technological and information revolutions, the blessings and dangers of globalization, the challenges to the survival of a healthy planet – they would do well to look at our food. Changes in food have always been a function of changes in society. We are – and will always be – what we eat.
(Adapted from TIME Magazine, SUMMER JOURNEY SPECIAL ISSUE, June 25 – July 2, 2007, pages 40 and 41)
The writer implies that, as a measure of life, food should be taken