Much good has been done in the world of eating and cooking. In the last ten years, crusaders for more authentic culinary experiences have had an enormously positive impact on the food industry. Artisan producers are now able to find a market for their carefully created produce and good husbandry means we can buy food that has been responsibly farmed. Our awareness of an increasingly broad range of ingredients means more of us are adventurous in our eating habits and bold, creative chefs have pushed the boundaries using better sourced produce from more interesting places.
But as we look at the year ahead, it’s clear that poverty is still the most likely indicator that you will not eat well. This is not an inevitability. It was not always thus. At the crossroads of knowledge and indulgence lies responsibility. And there are many campaigns to fight on the road to equality and sustainability. Of course, there has been rapid growth in sustainable farming, greater understanding of the importance of diet and health, increased awareness of the depopulation of the oceans and more effort towards less waste. And we should be thankful for it. But it is not enough.
Rising from the aromatic consommé of food purism, we cannot escape the fact that we live in communities where still too many people are dying from their diet, or lack of it. Forced to buy cheap carbohydrates, shamefully raised livestock, overdose on mass-produced salts and sugars, a quarter of the population is verging on self-inflicted obesity. Meanwhile we throw away one third of the food we buy and despite some diligent initiatives to prevent waste, supermarkets are still slow to change their habits. More than a million emergency food parcels were distributed in the last year by food banks; thousands of children go everyday without ever having a proper cooked meal and older people are left to fend for themselves as their crucial lifelines are cut.
We always have a responsibility to pass on what we gain to ensure that those who most need nutritious, healthy, well-sourced ingredients are able to access them. In schools, prisons, hospitals people need to be nourished, whether to help them learn, rehabilitate or heal. More than ever food has become the currency of survival. Your chance to eat decent food depends entirely on your ability to succeed in this society. If you don’t have the money, you can eat the rotten stuff produced by the businesses we condemn but do nothing about because ultimately they are the companies in whom we invest and that make us rich. Foie gras, food banks, deforestation, obesity, intensive fish farming, sugar are just some of the issues we gaily skate across believing whatever myths justifies our inaction. In our race to be the first at the newest table in town, let’s not forget where our good fortune is paid for.
Fundamental to the principle of hospitality is to let those who are hungry, needy, strange and poor eat first from the plate. If we simply indulge our own epicurean desires regardless of our responsibilities, if we don’t actively resist our own greed in all its manifestations we might eventually become the sacrificial lamb on the altar of history. They will remember that we did nothing but sate our own appetites.