Sunday, April 17, 2011

Life? or Tragedy?

Yesterday afternoon, I experienced Charlotte Salomon's "Life? or Tragedy?" at the Jewish Contemporary Museum in San Francisco . A German-Jewish artist, Saloman retreated in France during the Nazi war. With a family history of suicide, Charlotte was faced deciding between doing the same with her own life or carrying out something completely insane. She chose the later. "Life? or Tragedy?" ensued, 1300-or-so autobiographical paintings that riveted a complexity of emotions. When married, her Jewish identity was open. Upon hearing that, the Nazis captured her and her husband and brought them to an Auschwitz concentration camp. Saloman passed at the age of twenty six, just two years older than me.

I was experiencing my own uncertainty of life or tragedy while going through the exhibit. While Saloman dealt with strife in political and cultural systems, I'm dealing with strife in our current food system. Foods I had eaten before heading to the museum didn't settle well in my body. Another episode later in the day at dinner, in addition to some earlier in the week, brought this to climax. Needless to say, I'd rather enjoy other parts of life in a positive note than have an intimate relationship with the toilet.

Like Saloman, I'm at a turning point. It is my experience, my story, and life that I choose. Life's too delicious, anyway, in so many forms. And like Saloman's paintings, my art is the thousands of meals I've created to help me heal: heal my body to its fullest potential and its connection to the rest of life. The hours upon hours I've spent cooking, pickling, curing, marinating, learning, growing, foraging, and procuring the most nourishing foods and forms of life available.

Here is an attempt at communicating this art in written form.

There are many things about our modern food system that break people, our environment, and our livelihoods. The system breaks the backs and honor of farmworkers. It breaks the rivers, streams, gulfs, and oceans, polluting them with pesticides, insecticides, and chemicals unmatched for ecosystem health. It breaks the soils, leaving them malnourished and dead. It breaks human culture that has given life to people since the beginning of time. It breaks other animals and their ability to contribute to a prospering ecosystem. It breaks out economic structure, leaving the rich richer and poor poorer.

Our modern food system literally breaks my body, leaving my throat constricted, stomach bloated, and mind foggy. It leaves my skin with rashes, breath short, and body twitching. It thrashes my body and leaves me to fend for myself like the Soviets did to Cubans or now the Republicans' doing to the rest of America.

Why are there foods - why are is there life - out there devoid of nutrients and devoid of life? I can feel it in body, a visceral experience. Living takes life. When life that's been oppressed, neglected, or unable to live its fullness, I feel that. I feel oppressed, neglected, and unable to live fully. I feel it immediately in my core, in my mind, in the morsel of my every soul.

And while all plants and animals have some sorts of defense mechanisms to ward off other life, our modern food system and how we currently eat is getting farther and farther way from optimal life. Farther and farther away from our ancestors and tradition.

There is not one term of eating that I believe can encompass and influence optimal life. Omnivore. Vegetarian. Vegan. Paleo. Primal. Weston A. Price. Frutarian. Atkins. Low-carb. And hundreds more.

The only thing I believe in to nourish optimal life with eating is real food. Real food makes real people. Unreal food makes unreal people. And every time I don't eat something real, I lose life. I lose my ability to fully function in this world. I lose my ability to engage, to nourish, and love.

I want to engage, to nourish, to love. I want to live.


cassan said...

I really empathize with your sentiments. It's a daily struggle to check constantly the foods I consider eating; "don't eat legumes unless you've properly prepared them yourself," and "ask the cooks to prepare your food with butter -- anything but soybean oil" I tell myself.

Finally, I think it's important I mention the word I had to type in order to publish this comment:



wearehowweeat said...

@cassan: Yes! But if it's not a struggle, what would life be worth?

PRONCAKE. That word describes our summer 2010.

HoftheM said...

You are ;ile a 'Dali Lama' of food and health. I will read everything you write from now on. I admire Hai Vo.