The Holiday season is over! Time to work on that New Year’s resolution you planned at the start of the year. And with all the delicious food we consumed in parties and reunions over the Christmas break, I guess we all share the same goal – that of losing some (if not significant) weight.
It is undeniable that food is an important aspect of our life. It not only is our source of nutrition, affecting our energy levels, but is also a significant part of our culture. Food as culturally rooted means that particular cultural sensibilities are at work whenever we have a meal (Zialcita 2005). Just think of how Filipinos are fond of the sour and salty taste of sinigang! These cultural sensibilities are heavily influenced by our local environment.
The cultural ecology perspective tells us that our culture evolved in adaptation to the environment. One of the ways by which humans interact with the environment is through food. The environment provides us with a source of natural food, regulating our consumption with what the environment can offer at any given time. And because various environments yield different kinds of food, the environment also influences our ‘taste’ for food. In extracting food from the environment, humans have thus been conferred with the responsibility of maintaining a harmonious relationship with it.
In recent years, a phenomenon that George Ritzer (1993) calls McDonaldization has disrupted this harmony. Ritzer defines McDonaldization as a paradigm of consumption in which the principles of the fast-food restaurant are increasingly dominating the different sectors of society across the world. Such phenomenon started in the food industry, but it now affects every aspect of human life, including education.
McDonaldization is characterized by efficiency, calculability, predictability, and control in the production of food (Ritzer 1993). Such mechanisms tend to drive individuals to overlook the importance of the five senses when it comes to consuming and savoring food because the harmony between environment and ‘taste’ is disrupted. With predictability, particularly in fast food chains, the taste of food will always be the same regardless of the environment and culture to which the fast food chain is located, alienating us from a more authentic experience of what our local environment offers.
By ensuring control in food delivery, individuals are socialized into consuming food like robots – with limited time and in a limited place. We are also socialized into believing that quality is equivalent to quantity, which creates a higher demand for certain types of food. Producers have then industrialized food production, pushing individuals to exceed their biological consumption limits. This over consumption of, for instance, processed food reflects a disconnect with the environment and puts our health in danger.
The challenge for us now – and this is especially so for those living in urban areas – is to reconsider how our food consumption habits disrupt our harmony with the environment. Instead of simply consuming food or only thinking of calories, it is now time to reconnect with food found in our environment! If we keep ignoring this disharmony, our environment will recover on its own through evolving bacterial diseases such as those from salmonella, the major cause of which include industrializing poultry and cattle production.
One of the ways by which we can counter the threat of McDonaldization is by considering other food options. Eating locally produced agricultural products empowers the livelihood of local farmers. Knowledge of the fruits in season allows us to distinguish between industrially-produced fruit and naturally-produced fruit. Fruits harvested in season are what the environment intends for us to consume. Let us bring back our harmony with nature! When we eat, it would be good to also be aware of how our food is produced and how it gets to our dining table.
Re-establishing our harmony with the environment would perhaps make a better New Year’s resolution than a mere obsession with weight (and would perhaps be more helpful in keeping us fit). Beyond our vanity lies our dependence on the environment for our survival.
Ritzer, George. “The McDonaldization of Society.” In The McDonaldization of society: An introduction, by George Ritzer. Thousand Oaks, California: Pine Forge Press, 1993.
Zialcita, Fernando Nakpil. Authentic though not Exotic. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2005.