Thumbing through Daniel Goleman’s Social Intelligence last night (his new one Focus just came out), I reflected on his warning (five years ago) that we’re losing our skills for human connection.
Food is a medium for connection. Technology, in contrast, is for communication. We need both, but as a culture our tools for connection are eroding while we’re spending increasing amounts of time doped up on communication.
How well are we communicating anyway? Half of communication is listening yet the volume and speed of online content have reached such peaks that most of us aren’t even reading anymore – we’re scanning. (You’re probably not reading this right now, and I don’t blame you.)
We’re in a perpetual pie-eating contest to absorb, interact and share. There is no room for reflection, no pacing online.
Among folks working in food – joining the battle cry chorus for better access, health and communal wellbeing – few of us know how to practice food.
We understand the practice of law or medicine – and how to get there. Go to school and study, take a certain test that grants you a certain license and then get out there and touch things and talk to people and do the work of whatever you are proclaimed to be proficient in.
Yet no matter their degree, very few food people practice food: only eating when they are eating; capable of meditating through a meal fully savoring the flavors and textures and the other human beings seated around them.
Why is this? Because doing food this way is counter-cultural. Anyone who wants to be anyone in any field is incentivized to run around like a headless chicken attending conferences, flinging business cards, belching out resumes, creating and sharing content, impressing people, and otherwise being on. Being on does include actual eating.
It’s why, paradoxically, so many food conferences make no room for food. Speaker after speaker takes the stage to deliver a sermon on how we need to increase human health and heal our communities through food. Then, when lunch is called, it’s a mad dash to the buffet line to pile plates high and choke down whatever has been foraged in order to leave time for a beeline to that person we simply must meet (or to the bathroom) before we have to get back inside to the event.
After all, that is why we are here: to talk about food. The food itself has become an afterthought, a formality.
Subconsciously food points to our inconvenient animal nature and to our mortality. In the clouds of great ideas (which is where all conferences aim to keep us) – it’s a little discomforting to have to check out of the stratosphere and attend to our basal bodily needs.
Yet if we want to make real and measurable change in our food culture and public health, we are going to have to face our food. Rethink and redesign how we weave it into our work.
And be brave enough to be counter-cultural by slowing down, reconnecting to our stomachs and one another, and practicing the skills of basic humanness.