Turning the tide: how marine life gave me a new perspective on my relationship with food
My childhood summer holidays revolved around the sea, first running naked around the beach, 306 - the number of our wooden beach hut - in marker on my back.
Reading time: 4,5 minutes
Recap: In conversations about food, you’ll most likely encounter three types of people. These types are often at war with each other, so a useful dialogue about good food is all about understanding and reconciliation. We’ll explore these perspectives, as well as some tools that will bring them together.
In the previous article, we’ve talked about the polarisation of the food debate. How people are locked in opposing mind-sets, and feel to need to impose their own opinions of good food. This turns many conversations about our eating habits into messy food fights. It’s not getting us anywhere.
But what mind-sets and opinions are there? To know a little bit about this will help you to talk constructively about food. So, in this article, we’ll explore the different perspectives that dominate the food debate, as well as some tools that will bring them together.
I spent my summer in Sweden, where, one evening, I was at a dinner party. The host prepared some delicious foods, amongst which Swedish meatballs (duh). As we were passing plates around the table, another guest said: “No thank you, I’m trying to eat less meat.” The conversation now turned to food, and we began to share our own food choices, and reasons for them.
By listening closely to many such conversations, I’ve come to notice that, when it comes to food, there are three types of people. Saviours, bearers, and enjoyers. Many, if not most, of us, embody elements of all three types. Because these types are often at war with each other, a useful dialogue about good food is all about understanding and reconciliation.
Saviours are those people who know the way – according to themselves at least. The way to responsible choices, eating well, and good living. These people are often considered to lead by example and to be truly inspirational. Think of vegan bodybuilder and Mr. Universe ’14 Barny du Plessis, or well-known psychologist Jordan Peterson who openly talks about his meat-only diet.
But some, or sometimes, saviours take their love for food a bit too far. They share their beliefs not just generously, but obsessively. They’ll talk about how you should eat, always and everywhere, to anyone who will or won’t listen.
Their compulsive need to save – their health, other people, animals or the world – turns them into moral knights on high horses. They go around preaching the Food Gospel, at the same time condemning anyone voicing an alternative opinion. Regardless of whether they’re carnivores or vegans, all full-on food fundamentalists are saviours.
Second, there are the bearers. They don’t like to talk about food. It reminds them of all its related problems and possibilities – related to personal taste or health; to animal welfare; to climate and environment; to socio-political dynamics; to the economy.
Bearers feel they must toil all this on their shoulders, like Atlas carries the world. Oh, the weight of the world! It’s too heavy... So, when asked about their food choices, bearers sigh... They get irritated, emotional or defensive. Even lash out in anger. Their ultimate escape route is to shrug, pretend to be bored or indifferent, and then retreat in awkward silence or change the subject.
And then, there are the enjoyers, who also avoid the topic of food choices. Not the topic of food though, they just love to talk about that. In the sense of discussing what sauce goes best with a steak (mushroom or tartare?).
For enjoyers, ignorance truly is bliss. They are the masters of the ostrich technique – bury your head in the sand and shake your tail feather. Because enjoyers, well... they just want to enjoy life and all it has to offer. To have a good time, no strings attached.
Do you identify with any of these perspectives? I, for one, tend to alternate between them. Feeling the need to rescue, carry, and hedonistically take advantage of the world. I often experience these feelings in rapid succession, and sometimes even all at once. I’m a bit like Cerberus, the mythological three-headed dog that guards Hades’ underworld.
Saviours on the one hand, claim moral monopoly and monologue. Bearers and enjoyers on the other, play deaf and avoid accountability altogether. They don’t exactly make good conversation partners!
How can we reconcile saviours, bearers and enjoyers – or those parts within ourselves? By using the F-word – the F of figure out, friendly, fun and (e)ffort.
Figure out – the effects of your food choices. This simply means: think about what you eat. Have an idea of what it takes for food to travel from the farm to your fork. This knowledge will empower you.
Be Friendly – be kind to yourself, others, the planet. A warm and open attitude is stronger than all the scientific facts in the world combined.
Have Fun – figuring out your definition of good food, your personal version of the right diet, can be so much fun! Getting to know your own body, and in touch with the world around you. How nature nurtures you, how people and animals provide for you, to grow and develop. This is incredibly awesome!
Make an eFfort – just start, and strive for progress, not perfection. At first, eating organic, vegan, local produce some of the time is good enough. Or like that guest at my Swedish dinner party, who made an honest effort to eat less meat. Cutting out meat altogether might be a bridge too far for him. So, he simply started his journey to good food by reducing his meat consumption. A next step would be to make sure that when he did eat something meaty, it was ethically produced. Progress! Not perfection.
Calling all saviours, bearers and enjoyers! Let’s change the F-words we use. Not the F of f*** you, but of figuring out, friendly, fun and (e)ffort. Let’s meet in the middle, and get to work – thinking, acting and feeling our way toward eating good food.