Just like breathing, eating is an act of life. Eating often gives us delight and pleasure but also brings fears and problems. Daily recurring worries of having not enough or not enough quality food (which can be more or less strong and sometimes even dramatic, depending on our life circumstances), are part of all our lives.
Those who are not able to eat by themselves, such as small children or some sick or old persons, have to be fed by others in order to survive. To be fed is one of the first social experiences of humans after birth. From this moment on food begins to hold multiple forms of meaning for the conduct of life and becomes a focal point of sensual as well as social, economic, and ecological experiences.
What kind of food we eat, in which way we eat and prepare it is also related to our belonging, to a certain geographic area, a social class, or a religious community, but also to people with certain beliefs. It also strongly influences our quality of life and the environment.
Before we can eat something, it needs to grow, be produced, and prepared. The kind of food and the quality of what we find on our table depends on a number of ethical, economic, and political decisions taken in the domains of agriculture, trade, consumer, and health policies. There are also consequences with regards to the one’s own wellbeing as well as that of other humans and animals, who produce or prepare what we are eating or which are—in the case of meat—themselves part of the food.
Eating underlines that nature and culture are interwoven. Although there is no clear or obligatory reason for it, all societies seem to have developed collective ways of eating. As good as all religions include orders and prohibitions related to food. In some religions such as Christianity or Judaism, a common meal establishes belonging to the community of faith. Good and festive food is moreover often used as the metaphor for what is seen as a good life.
“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well,” British writer Virginia Woolf put it straight to the point in her essay A room of one’s own. Eating as a physically sensual experience represents the manyfold experiences of pleasure, but also experiences of necessary constraints related to health problems and regulations such as diets that are meant to remodel human bodies according to the image of an ideal beauty. Eating disorders make visible how control over one’s food intake can turn into a struggle for becoming independent of bodily needs, which sometimes might even end in death.
The often quoted saying that „money cannot be eaten” signifies an existing awareness of how mistaken the binary order is which has put money at the center of all economic activity. At the same time, both quantity and quality of the food available strongly depend upon monetary resources of individual households and thus of local and global distribution policies.
On a global scale, seven billion dignitaries live under threat of famine. Expenditure for food is one of the biggest budget posts of European households with people living below the poverty line, their access to fresh fruit and vegetables and other high quality foods is limited. More and more people depend on local food banks, which pass expired and excess produce on to the deserving poor. Such institutions clearly are a temporary solution that might take off the edge of poverty but only by treating the symptoms of problems such as overproduction, speculation, and the dominating power of a handful of food corporations.
Small farmers in the global South as well as a growing number of organisations and people in the rich countries of the North have started to fight for changes of agricultural and food policies. Under the banner of „food sovereignty” they call for „bread, land and freedom” and the right to healthy and culturally suitable food for everybody. They demand food that is produced in a sustainable and ecological way to protect against hazardous substances. They also call for fair food trade and request the right to use land, woods, water, and seed for those who produce and distribute food. Initiatives such as food co-ops, people’s kitchens, veg boxes, and other forms of solidarity agriculture demonstrably prove that (and how) good eating for all is possible.