by Mary Gaylord
Food is life itself. Food is sensual. Food can be used to manipulate. Food can be used to shame. Food can be used to show love. Food can be a sign of status. Food can be political. Does this make you hungry for more?
I recently had the privilege to participate in a Living Room Conversation - a structured, intimate, conversational format where friends engage in a self-guided discussion about an issue of interest. Typically these conversations include people with different points of view, often on controversial topics - think "Guns," "Politics," or "Cronyism" - some juicy topics for lively conversation indeed. But on this occasion the topic was sustenance itself. Our conversation was about food. Yes, food. Would this be an interesting or even remotely contentious topic for us to sink our teeth into? I mean, we all eat, right? Boring!
It was, in fact, far from boring. Picture three millennials and three middle-agers sitting around a living room in Colorado - entering into a discussion about food. We were quickly immersed in the controversy and ethics surrounding food. What is "healthy" eating? Is it appropriate to judge (litigate? tax?) some foods? How can we consider what we eat without taking into consideration how we eat? With whom we eat? Why we eat? What is available to eat? And, of course, the question of where our food comes from and at what cost.
We discussed food as an expression of family and love. We also considered how like political camps, some have set up food camps, preferring to be around those who eat like they do, making food one more thing that can be difficult to talk about in certain circles. We talked about judging other's food choices. One of our participants talked about observing a mother putting soda in a bottle and feeding it to her baby. Another spoke of his work with Denver's leading food assistance program and the controversial decision to not distribute sugary, unhealthy foods and the unsettling reactions of some Denverites to this practice.
The vast ideas and positions participants held on this topic were fascinating. Our conversationalists included a young Latina woman who doesn't have a lot of time for preparing food and claimed she might eat grass if it were socially acceptable due to it's abundance and simplicity; a food access manager of a large urban hunger-relief organization focused on promoting health and self-sufficiency; a college professor interested in the use of media in social movement activism and a lover of home-cooked family Italian meals; a documentary filmmaker concerned about community, education, and the economics involved in food choices; a recent college graduate with an insider's perspective as a server in a restaurant; and myself, a mom of two growing children (including a 12-year-old-eating-machine-boy and a sugar/carb inclined 10-year-old-girl).
While we hungrily digested this conversation one thing we agreed on is that we could all benefit from more information concerning food choices and the far-reaching consequences to our health and to our planet. We talked about how to make information more accessible to all people regardless of socio-economic and cultural differences. We contemplated how teaching school-aged children about food choices could spread from child to adult to community to planet.
Amidst our enthusiasm for this conversation we also agreed that the sharing of information about food choices can sometimes feel judgmental and that there is huge sensitivity around the implication that what you are eating (or worse, feeding your children) may not be "healthy." As a friend recently said, "it's easier to talk about politics in my family than food!" At the very least, we conversationalists agreed that there was much more discussion to be had on the matter of food.
It is said that the appetite grows by what it feeds on. In addition to a good meal, I have an appetite for connection, understanding, and conversation. How about you? If you are craving stimulating conversation, join us - let's have these conversations - about food, about politics, about anything that has the potential to divide - or more importantly and more powerfully - to connect us.
Mary Gaylord is a Program Development Partner with Living Room Conversations. She lives in the Rocky Mountains and is passionate about spending time outdoors with family and friends, and of course, partaking of good food and great conversation.