May 12, 2012

Cuisine As A Humanism, and GMOs As Its Enemy


In his Omnivore’s Dilemma Michael Pollan describes how cuisine is the culture of understanding what and how to eat, in order to achieve the highest health.

Yet the surfeit of choice that confronts the omnivore brings stresses and anxieties also undreamed of by the cow or koala, for whom the distinction between The Good Things to Eat and the Bad is second nature. And while our senses can help us draw the first rough distinctions between good and bad foods, we humans have to rely on culture to remember and keep it all straight. So we codify the rules of wise eating in an elaborate structure of taboos, rituals, manners, and culinary traditions…a great many of our food rules do make biological sense, and they keep each of us from having to confront the omnivore’s dilemma every time we visit the supermarket or sit down to eat.

That set of rules for preparing food we call a cuisine specifies combinations of foods and flavors that on examination do a great deal to mediate the omnivore’s dilemma. The dangers of eating raw fish, for example, are minimized by consuming it with wasabi, a potent antimicrobial. Similarly, the strong spices characteristic of many cuisines in the tropics, where food is quick to spoil, have antibacterial properties…As Paul Rozin writes, “Cuisines embody some of a culture’s accumulated wisdom about food.” Often when one culture imports another’s food species without importing the associated cuisine, and its embodied wisdom, they make themselves sick….

If nature won’t draw a line around human appetite, then human culture must step in, as indeed it has done, bringing the omnivore’s eating habits under the government of all the various taboos (foremost the one against cannibalism), customs, rituals, table manners, and culinary conventions found in every culture. There is a short and direct path from the omnivore’s dilemma to the astounding number of ethical rules with which people have sought to regulate eating for as long as they have been living in groups.

– The Omnivore’s Dilemma pp. 295-6, 298

This idea of health from good eating goes far beyond our physical bodies, to encompass organically our entire human experience. But it all starts with food.
GMOs are the radical enemy of this humanist and democratic cuisine.
For a stark example, we need only look at the GMO labeling “issue”:
1. Governments have tried to evade existing food taboos and prevent the formation of new ones through the expedient of an information blackout. They simply obscure the fact of this alien infiltration of our food. This blackout in itself proves the system’s bad faith and its anti-biological imperative.
2. GMO labeling will try to reinforce the taboos which are the cultural manifestation of our biology, the way we use culture to protect and enhance our health.
I’ve written many times about how transparency, sunshine, is a core principle of democracy. Full knowledge of public affairs is our public property. This applies to all affairs of every hierarchy. GMO secrecy is a typical example, and the worst example, of elitism’s infinite hatred for democracy and contempt for humanity. This is the imposition upon us, by “our” governments, of history’s ultimate feeding experiment, with all of us as guinea pigs kept in the dark, denied our right or ability to give (or deny) informed consent.
GMO labeling is trying to occupy our food supply by bringing it back into the sunshine of an organic information culture. Only when we understand what GMOs are (and how little is known about their dangers, and the fact that the little we do know indicates looming disaster) and where in our food they are can we humanly grapple with them.
Of course, we don’t need to figure out a position on them. Human beings rightly, naturally, reject such an obvious biological assault. All we need is to see where the enemy is so we have a clean shot (in this case, a clear path shunning them). The goal is to abolish GMOs completely.
I’ll make a correction in the above quote. This function of human culture which Pollan implicitly sets apart from nature is in fact part of nature. Culture which is in accord with the natural imperative, in this case to find the good things to eat, is part of the holism of nature. It’s organic culture. “Culture” becomes unnatural and anti-natural only where it seeks to divorce us from nature, to place us outside it and in opposition to it. But this is where hierarchy seeks to divide us from our human selves and place us in opposition to ourselves. The way it induces we the 99% to fight among ourselves politically is only one aspect of it.
It’s characteristic that capitalism’s instinct was to turn animals into cannibals, via CAFO feed, and characteristic of the ways of nature that the direct and immediate result was mad cow disease. This was veritably, as well as in a rich symbolic sense, a direct challenge to nature and expression of infinite contempt for it. Capitalism is an excrescence upon humanity and upon the earth as a whole. It’s no accident that its quintessential qualities, biologically as well as metaphorically, are cancer and cannibalism.



1 Comment

  1. Funny that if I take pure… content as a criteria, I could say that you and Toby on Econosophy are saying the same thing.
    But… you are worlds apart.
    Too bad that I will be taxed with… reductionist monomania by reminding you once again of Descartes’s manifesto, in the Method, and his confident proclamation that health was the highest public and individual good.
    Health has become the new religion. The ten commandments of health.
    We have substituted health for salvation in Western civilization… as Descartes promoted.
    Don’t you find it strange that PLEASURE still remains as.. SINFUL as it has been in the past, but that we have found new, scientific rationalizations to makes ourselves feel guilty ? (The number of my friends who DENY THEMSELVES certain foods because of their belief in hypertension continues to grow.)
    If you look at our eating habits, you will see how the consumer society is playing out here, too.
    My dear departed daddy refused to eat left overs, and made my mom fix a NEW, DIFFERENT, IMPROVED meal every night for him.
    With elaborate recipes, of course..
    My children ate ham and zucchini almost every day for lunch when they were growing up (with an occasional exception…).
    I thought… because I was too lazy, unimaginative, and uncreative, to churn out a NEW IMPROVED, DIFFERENT meal seven days a week.. (They.. survived, of course, and are none the worse for the experience.)
    But recently, I have started thinking that our ancestors weren’t churning out new improved, different meals the way we seem to think IT MUST BE DONE, if we are to be.. normal.
    No, I think there was a lot of repetition in our ancestors’ lives that we find intolerable, because we are addicted to “new, improved, etc”.
    By the way, cannibalism is not necessarily a scourge of the moderns… no reason to lump it in there with capitalism.
    It suffices to remark that… the corruption of the best engenders the worst, and you have said it, right ?

    Comment by Debra — May 12, 2012 @ 3:08 am

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