07 October 2009

"A Pot of Food is a Pot of Medicine"

Khun Kriang, an herbal medicine doctor at the Herbal Medicine Center in Yasothorn province said, “A pot of food is a pot of medicine.” This thought traced me back to my connections with food and the role it plays in my life. Back in Boston, I prided myself in using my reusable bags at Whole Foods to purchase as much Organic or All Natural food as possible without burning a hole in my wallet. But why was I really purchasing Organic Food in the first place? My answer, at the time, would be- because it’s healthier. So if I had to choose between two apples that looked the exact same, but one was labeled “certified organic”- I bought it no matter the price. I never thought about where that apple had come from or why it was organic. I never wondered why I was going to eat the apple, or whom I could share it with.

After my experiences in Yasothorn living on an organic farm and participating in a Green Market, I realize that there’s more to food than just what you eat- food is a story; it’s a process; it’s a part of our lives. There are more times than I can count in my life where convenience and inexpensive “deals” overcame my desire to put thought into the food I was eating. But the feeling I had after a bowl of Ramen noodles as opposed to the feeling I have after I invite my friend over to eat the Filipino dish my Grandmother passed on to me cannot be compared. Food is more than just nourishment; it’s an experience, relationship and culture.

This all ties back to the concept of food as a medicine. Medicine heals you when you’re sick and prevents you from future problems. Food is similar in that way- it’s a method of sustaining one’s life through not only nutrition but relationships. Food is a culture and a means of bringing humans together. It’s a reason to gather together with people you love, it’s a tradition that can be passed throughout your families while also a livelihood for farmers and producers.

I worry in America we have lost this connection with food. Instead of having a food culture as a country, I find many Americans have to reach back into their own personal roots to find their food identities. But some have lost that connection to their roots, as it has been overcome by the convenience of fast food or the inexpensive processed goods. In Thailand, the price of organic food is the same as food grown with chemicals. The same people who can afford non-organic food can afford organic. But in America, we not only are slowly losing our food culture that is made up of the melting pot of different food ethnicities- but we are losing the equality of our society, all having the equal opportunity to eat what’s healthy and sustainable.

However, there is a slight glimpse of hope. The organic movement in America is slowly growing and making the demand of organic food more prevalent- thus making it much more available to all consumers. Also, I have always found that whenever I share my food identity with others- whether that’s inviting them over for a traditional Passover dinner or cooking up one of my Grandmother’s Filipino recipes- it sparks something in other people, wanting to share their food identity with me. I think we need to embrace the food that defines us, but not forget where it comes from and the hands that make or grow it. Food is not just breakfast, lunch and dinner. It sustains our lives for however long we live. Food heals in a way modern medicine cannot. It connects us with other humans, bringing us together to enjoy life.

So where do we go from here?

Rani Pimentel
Northeastern University

1 comment:

Andy said...

Rani I really enjoyed reading your post. I completely agree with you that America has lost its connection with food. The American food industry exercises such a high level of financial, political, and cultural power, the average consumer has become completely oblivious and detached to the food they eat. In my opinion, food is produced under a corrupt system that privileges ease and profit over health and sustainability. Due to this prevalence of convenience and industrial agribusiness throughout the corporate controlled food industry, American consumers have been subconsciously trained to never think about where their food comes from or how their food choices affect the rest of the world.

In reality, governmental policy that supports mono-culture systems is outdated and support should be shifted to programs that promote crop rotations and organic farming practices. Moreover, defending biodiversity, especially in developing countries like Thailand, not only means improving people’s quality of life, but guaranteeing life itself.