Ethical Eating: How Do You Think About the Food You Eat?

On Wednesday, February 10, the Asbell Center and the Wellness Center co-sponsored a discussion about ethical eating and food values. Food means something different to everyone, whether it is based on religion, a time to connect socially with family and friends, a way to form a relationship with the environment, a way to connect with culture and much more. The way in which health connects to faith was an important concept that was unpacked within the discussion, as well as how dietary restrictions impact decisions about food eaten on religious holidays, and the overall obstacles that come with certain diets. Each individual in the discussion had a unique relationship with their food and as a participant it was inspiring to see the diversity of ideas concerning what food meant to each person and how they constructed their mentality about food. Personally, I was coming at the discussion from a secular point of view and was intrigued by how multifaceted a relationship with food could be and that gratitude before every meal and observing certain religious holidays like Lent, Ramadan, and Passover created a close relationship with God.

On the other hand, the complex relationship with food was seen through the process in which people thought about the journey the food took to appear on the table and acknowledging the origins of food. To many people the act of giving thanks for the providers and farmers preparing or growing as well as the person who cooked and served the food cultivated a closer relationship with food. Many members of the discussion expressed the preference for food that was farm to table, shopping for groceries at local providers, having a garden themselves, or going to farmers markets for fresh produce a few times a week. As someone who mainly does shopping once a week at a large grocery store, I would personally say that having the opportunity to have fresh produce every few days would be something I hope to do in the future both to support locally grown foods and to feel more in tune with the health benefits of organic and whole foods.

The topic of certain diets such as kosher, veganism, gluten-free, and dairy-free diets were discussed at length because many of the discussion participants had some type of regulation on the food that they eat every day. It was interesting to see how such diets could be intertwined with health and how some diets are very hard to maintain especially when they are required due to health concerns. For example, being diabetic and part of the Islamic community would present an obstacle during the Ramadan period of fasting but above all the most important thing for people, according to health care providers and religious leaders, is to maintain their health as a priority rather than participating in risky behavior that could jeopardize their wellbeing.

One of the most striking relationships with food, where everyone seemed to have a story, was in instances of culture and tradition. Rather than thinking about when certain foods were not eaten, this was the moment when we thought about what certain foods were special at a certain time of the year or during personal family traditions. It was heartwarming to hear everyone’s stories about their favorite Thanksgiving dishes, certain ethnic dishes served only at certain times of the year, family recipes that had been passed down through generations, and family traditions like gardening or cooking together. From our discussion it was very apparent that food can have the power to bring people together and create a dialogue that can be illuminating, inspiring, and wholesome.

So looking back, I can say I learned a great deal about what food meant to other people right in the Dickinson community, as well as using the conversation as an opportunity to reflect on my own relationship with food and what my values are when I think about food. I think that a large number of people, including myself, don’t think very often about where their food comes from or who was involved in the journey it made and how it impacts the natural and religious world. This can be due to a busy lifestyle and many other factors, but taking a few seconds before every meal in gratitude, buying locally, and making mealtimes and holidays a time for celebrating social connections are small ways to acknowledge the impact that food has on people’s lives and creating a mentality that makes us more aware of our values and decisions concerning the food we put into our bodies.

Written by Ellen McInnes 22, WGRC student worker

February 17, 2021