Food—From Passive Consumer to Awakened Participant

"What you eat literally becomes you. You have a choice in what you’re made of."

- Anonymous

Have you ever considered that in the act of eating, you, literally, incorporate parts of Earth’s body into your body; and, in do doing, Earth becomes you… or, if you prefer, you become Earth

Indeed, in the big picture, Earth & Sun are participants in a cosmic marriage, and we are the progeny of this union. If this seems far-fetched, you need only recognize that it is the Sun’s energy, in combination with Earth’s air, water and minerals, that animates the plant world… which, in turn, sustains the animal world, including us. It is our food, produced through the alchemy of photosynthesis, that acts as a kind of cosmic umbilical cord, connecting us to Mother Earth and Father Sun!

You can become an awakened participant in this cosmic marriage by engaging in the following investigations.

Investigate What's On Your Plate

Scroll through the four investigations using the side arrows or bottom dots.

Investigation 1:
What Are You Really Eating?

Has it ever occurred to you that the words that we use to name the foods on our dinner plates are often misrepresentations? Environmental educator, Steve VanMatre, realized this when reading the dinner menu at a summer camp. He describes his awakening this way: By chance, I was watching the cook post the dinner menu one day when I suddenly realized that [her posting] wasn't what we were going to eat at all. It was a disguise. So, after she left, I went up and erased it. On the first line she had written, Roast Pork. I changed that to Roast Pig; then, I decided that this still wasn't clear enough and changed it to Roast Hoofed Mammal. The next line, Carrots, become Boiled Orange Roots, followed by Mashed White Tubers (Potatoes). And I changed the last line, Salad, to simply read “Tossed Leaves”. That is what we were really going to eat that evening—roots and tubers and mammals and leaves.

Upshot: As our food becomes ever-more disguised and compromised through both words and processing, much of what we put in our mouths bears no resemblance to food as it occurs in nature.

Investigation 2:
Where Does Your Food Come From?

Several years back, in an effort to explore just how far-flung our modern food system is, I had my students examine the origins of the food being served in the dining hall on a certain day. They began by making a list of the ingredients in each of that day’s ten menu items. Then, they determined the distance each ingredient traveled from its last distribution point to the Penn State campus. For example, the origins of the ingredients of the first item on the menu, New England Clam Chowder, were: clams from Seawatch International in Milford, Delaware; dried onions from Basic Vegetable Products in King City, California; frozen potatoes from J.P. Simplot in Boise, Idaho; margarine from Dean Foods in Richmond, Virginia; flour from Pillsbury in Minneapolis, Minnesota; and white pepper from Atlantic Spices in Avenel, New Jersey. By de-constructing the entire menu in this way, the students determined that the average distance traveled per menu ingredient was 870 miles; and that the entire menu, summed over all ingredients, had traveled more than 50,000 miles to reach the Penn State dining hall that day.  

Investigation 3:
What Does it Mean to Chew Your Food?

Growing up, my Dad stressed that it was important to chew each bite of food at least thirty times, but I confess to lacking the patience to follow his advice. Since that long-ago time, I have learned that when we don’t chew thoroughly, we miss out on the full nutritional benefits of our food.

Think about it: As we chew, we crunch our food into tinier and tinier fragments, thereby increasing the surface area for our digestive enzymes to do their work. However, when our chewing is insufficient, a significant portion of what we eat passes through our intestines, undigested.

In this vein, food aficionada Jessica Porter points out: “When we take the time to thoroughly chew our food, a wonderful thing happens: We finish our meal feeling satisfied, strong, and balanced because we have allowed time for our food to be fully digested and absorbed by our body.”

Investigation 4:
Experiencing the Vitality of Real Food

When was the last time you had the pleasure of eating a carrot, fleshly plucked from the ground? This is a question that I ask my students when they visit my backyard vegetable garden. Most admit that they have never harvested, much less eaten, a carrot, fresh from the ground.

Upon hearing this, I give them a processed, vegetable-flavored cracker, common to cheese plates, and ask them to examine it, noting its color, rectangular from, rigidity, and smell; and then to place the cracker in their mouth, with attention to what it’s like to put processed food, laden with all manner of artificial ingredients, bearing no resemblance to anything found in nature, into their bodies.

After this sharing, I offer everyone a glass of fresh water as a palate cleanser; and then I ask them to pluck a living carrot from the ground; and to behold its firm, tapering, vitality-filled body, as a gift from nature—made manifest through the miraculous conjoining of sunlight, water, air and soil! Only then, once they have summoned a measure of awe and gratitude, do I invite them to receive the carrot into their body.  

"Take care of your body. It’s the only place you have to live."

- Jim Rohn

"How does your perspective on the foods you eat every day change when you investigate what YOU are REALLY eating?"

- Bryne Travis and Genevieve Brandenberger, Steppingstone #22 Guides

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and Genevieve on the Community Page