What’s In Your Bowl?

February 3, 2013

2013 marks the fourth February for the Thornapple Blog. Which means we’ve gotten through more than three years of blogging on food ethics without noticing the annual event that consumes everyone’s attention about this time of the year. You are probably thinking that I’m going to go on and say something about Puxsatawney Phil, who predicted an early spring yesterday. After last year when we lost all the cherries, we in Michigan are not as keen on early spring as we might have been. We look out the window in early February and take comfort in that snow drifting down to provide fresh cover for an already white landscape. Following out this thread would, of course, take us straight into climate ethics.

But if you are actually reading the blog on February 3, 2013, you are probably not thinking about climate ethics. You’re making plans. Maybe you’ll get together with friends to have a bite and kibitz around the warm glow in your living or rec room. You are probably thinking that I’m going to go on say something about how the hearth is a focal object that centers and gives meaning to daily life. You probably remember that discussion from my book, The Agrarian Vision, and you’re expecting me to reprise that point for the blog. I probably should do a blog or two on focal practices, if only I could figure out how to say it in five hundred words, cracking side jokes all the while. But appearances to the contrary, I’m not actually so out of touch as to think that any readers of the Thornapple Blog would also have been readers of The Agrarian Vision.

No, we both know that you’re not huddling around the fire with a bunch of friends to share some community spirit and respite from the winter cold. You’re thinking about snuggling in and turning on the TV this evening. You are now probably thinking that I’m going to say something about Episode 3 of Season 3 in the popular ITV series Downton Abbey that is being broadcast on the Public Broadcasting Service stations around the country. This would not be a bad guess, because no matter what else is happening around 9:00pm tonight, I expect that Diane will indeed be ensconced in front of a television set tuned to WKAR, our local PBS affiliate, anxiously awaiting news about poor Sybil’s baby.

But in fact it’s probably evident to anyone who’s reading the blog on the day it’s posted that I’m leading up to the fact that the Super Bowl is being played later today. I’ve now run out of tangents to forestall getting to the actual topic of today’s blog, so I might as well face up to the fact that 160 million people are expected to be watching tonight, and to the fact that there have been newspaper and other media stories on the game, commercials and hoopla appearing at a steadily increasing pace for two weeks now. If you are a digital anthropologist who has painstakingly recovered the blog from a fossilized electronic memory device in the year 4545, you may not immediately know what I am talking about.  Of course, from my vantage point in history I can’t be sure that they aren’t getting ready to play Super Bowl MMMDLXXIX, but somehow I doubt it.

There’s also the possibility that you’re reading the blog in March of 2013, and this year’s Super Bowl is the last thing on your mind. How soon we forget. If you are an anthropologist in the year 4545, you probably wouldn’t get the food connection, either. That’s because “you ain’t gonna need your teeth, won’t need your eyes. You won’t find a thing to chew; nobody’s gonna look at you.” But back here in 2013, we’ll find plenty to chew sitting around the tube watching the great pop culture machine roll out a stream of clever new advertisements for beer, automobiles, soft drinks and other consumable products (punctuated, of course, by bursts of football, fireworks and lip synching from Beyonce). Chips constructed from all manner of grain and fats by our astounding food manufacturers; dips made from cheese-food product, bean-food product, vegetable-food product, soybean-oil-food product and (our favorite) “other natural ingredients”-food product; non-alcoholic, sugar-free, gluten-free and also a few hyphen-free beverages; even the rare homemade quinoa tabouli or white-bean chicken chili. We are a diverse lot here in the 21st century.

And if my math is correct, there are around 140 million Americans who won’t be watching the Super Bowl tonight, the rest of the planet’s population notwithstanding. So here’s the burning food ethics question: what will you guys be serving for Downton Abbey?

Paul B. Thompson is the W.K. Kellogg Professor of Agricultural, Food and Community Ethics at Michigan State University


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