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Food, joy, and values

posted by Joshua on May 1, 2012 in Blog, Nature, NorthKorea
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A culture’s food tells you its values — some of its most important ones.

I just had fresh squeezed mango and some mangosteens on the streets of Ho Chi Minh City. They cost almost nothing here. They were as delicious as any fruit I’ve eaten.

Two weeks ago I could barely put another oil soaked vegetable in my mouth in North Korea. We had little choice in where or what to eat. The meat-eaters seemed to enjoy their food more — they gave them more variety — but they couldn’t seem to stop serving what I came to call “Oil soup with a touch of vegetables.” It wasn’t as bad as that, but after eight or nine days without respite, just the smell of oil repulsed me.

I’m almost finished reading Omnivore’s Dilemma, about, among other things, America’s corporate industrial food system.

At least while I’m eating the fruit — or any of the delicious, cheap, freshly made, casual street food readily available everywhere in Ho Chi Minh City — I can’t imagine anyone in Vietnam being that unhappy — at least while they’re eating the food. Meanwhile, I can’t imagine anyone in America feeling that good about themselves or their lives while corporations sacrifice taste and nutrition for profitability and control. As for North Korea, you don’t get any choice except what the government provides.

Next time I want to understand a place, I’ll start by looking at their food and how they serve it. Think about Italy. France, Japan, some hunter-gatherer society far from any civilization. What can you tell about the culture from their food?

You, here, now

Come to think of it, this blog is about improving our own life. Thinking about food makes you wonder: think about your refrigerator and whatever you ate for the past several meals. What do they say about yourself, your identity, and your values?

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