An edited version of this article was published in the Trinidad Express, 4th April, 2014
"Food, far more than sex, is the great leveler. Just as every king, prophet, warrior, and saint has a mother, so every Napoleon, every Einstein, every Jesus has to eat." —Betty Fussell
In T&T we pride ourselves on our exquisite cuisine. Nothing brings people together like a food lime. If we need to raise some funds, see how fast we hold a bar-b-que or curry-que. We love our bellies. As the saying goes; “Is better belly buss than good food waste.”
There is something sensual about good food. It’s more than just a lime with friends. The way a cool drink slips down your throat on a warm day; the way a hot curry makes you sweat. It’s not a big jump to start comparing great food with sex. In Trinidad, we can turn to the wisdom of The Mighty Sparrow: “We cyar make love on hungry belly.” Or, take a glance at those Haagen Daas billboards on the highway. Even KFC advertises a sensual experience.
In his book ‘Food Sex and Salmonella’, Dr. David Waltner-Toews, a veterinarian, scientist, epidemiologist and popular author, takes the comparison between food and sex a step further. He describes eating as “Quite literally, turning the world outside in.” He points out that food is nothing more than pieces of the environment. We take bits of plants such as leaves (lettuce), roots (garlic), or sap (sugar), bits of all kinds of animals, from fish to fowl, and even bacteria (yogurt), and bring them inside us. Food is our very intimate connection to the living world.
As Waltner-Toews explains it, choosing bits of the environment to bring into our bodies is more like sex than we might think. “What sex is to interpersonal relationships, eating is to the human environment relationship, a daily consummation of our marriage to the living biosphere… and like sexual promiscuity and ignorance of our sexual partners, promiscuity in eating habits and ignorance of eating partners can carry great risks.”
In T&T, we’re enthusiastic about food and sex. Carnival, for instance, is dominated by all-inclusive fetes boasting the best food and drink. Where does all this food come from and what’s the real price associated with such sensual scrumptiousness? Have we been ‘eating around’?
Where are you sticking that tongue?
In T&T, thanks to globalisation, we have a lot of exotic food: Prime Canadian Angus beef, New Zealand lamb chops, St. Louis pork ribs, Italian sausages, Guatemalan strawberries, Chilean kiwis and made in the USA broccoli. The variety is astounding and so is our import bill, but there’s more to imports than just dollars and cents.
Looking at imported food through a lens of ecology and public health we realise there’s a lot more going on. We are engaging in long distance relationships with all of these countries; bringing bits of their environments inside ourselves.
There is also an invisible trade occurring; the microbes (e.g. viruses, bacteria and parasites) that are tagging along for the ride. We import a lot of food from Latin and South America. What agricultural system are they using? Are pesticides being sprayed in order to get strawberries to PriceSmart?
Here’s another kicker. Many of us have no real idea where our food comes from. Labelled foods do not necessarily give an origin but rather where they are reformulated or packaged. You might think you are eating food made in the USA when the actual ingredients are from China. Waltner-Toews likens this to having sex with a blindfold on. “Reducing foods from biological entities with specific ecological histories to tradable commodities defined by price, fibre, fat or protein content has resulted in an abusive relationship with our natural environment.”
We don’t have to look as far as other countries to talk about eating promiscuously. Dead fish have been washing up on our shores from the Gulf of Paria following the recent Petrotrin oil spill. What does this mean for our health, or the fishing industry in T&T?
Every time you put a piece of New Zealand cheese in your macaroni pie you’re about to get personal with some strange environment. Have you asked the right questions before you begin to get intimate? How safe are your partners?
This is not an excuse for an extreme weight-loss diet of lemongrass and mango that you grow in your own yard. We can all keep eating every day and enjoying great Trini cuisine. Waltner-Toews is simply reminding us that we are a part of nature. We have to be responsible in our eating habits. What happens to our food and the environment in which it is produced is intimately connected to us. As Waltner-Toews explains: “We need to find better ways to take better care of our food partners … We need our food more than our food needs us; our relationship is not a one night stand.”
To find out more on Food, Sex and Salmonella, human-animal diseases, and mind bending awesomeness, check out Dr. David Waltner-Toews at www.davidwaltnertoews.com
Dr. David Waltner-Toews is one of my personal heroes. An extraordinary Veterinarian and a genius of our time. His ideas around systems thinking and ecohealth have inspired and provided guidance to us at Asclepius Green. I highly recommend his books - a fun and enlightening read. As we say in T&T, "Try it yuh go like it!"
Dr. A Mahase-Gibson - Executive Director, Asclepius Green.
Healthy, Happy Animals - Healthy, Happy Communities