For this issue’s “What’s in my bag?,” we interviewed Philosophy Professor Dr. Guy Crain. Crain is a big believer in personal responsibility and choices to improve the world. He dropped the near war-torn lunch bag onto the table. It was a plastic, reusable bag that one would likely get for free as some kind of promotion. In his own words, here is what Crain carried in his bag and why.
Fried Rice & Buttermilk
You can see food items and you can so associate people with them and suddenly those reactions to food can be reactions to people and their way of life. If one sees this food as particularly foreign then people who are comfortable with that become foreign to me and it’s interesting that food can be divisive in that sense. I think about my grandpa, he didn’t grow up on a farm, but he had friends that did and he loved fresh buttermilk, and to my 4-year-old ears, that sounded disgusting. But it’s interesting to look at these two disparate groups this food represents and what they think about each other, and, what’s funny, is these foods are tied up into the tribal markers that underpins what these two think of each other. Some of that [integration] is improving. In Oklahoma in 2018, you could get sushi, Korean or Arab food, and when I was a kid, you couldn’t. Now there’s entire generations that don’t know any different from having a Chinese buffet on every corner and falafel place on ... every third corner. But the options are still there to silo yourself pretty easily.
It’s interesting to me still that the most cost-effective options are in the least nutritious kinds of foods. So those most struggling need to buy the things least replenishing to their bodies. It bothers me to think about. It’s not just about eating picky, but the way in which the options set before you train your preferences. Think about what a vicious loop that might be. Very typically, at a warehouse I worked at, our days were 12 hours long. If that’s what someone is doing day in and day out, and then trying to replenish the body with quarter pounders, it doesn’t work out super well. It’s easy to miss the degree to which food plays an important role in maintaining classes as they are and maintaining tribes as they are. So many of our problems are connected to food in ways we don’t understand. Food is a big component of healthcare seeing as Twinkies are cheaper than apples. The question being asked is ‘can we engineer a safe Twinkie?’ but to me that grossly misses the point.
One thing that strikes me is people who have a degree of a picky palate, is that there’s not a sense of ‘I know
what it’s like to have produced my food,’ and this is especially true in international markets. So like for every 10 people that like chicken nuggets, about seven of them would never make them themselves. I’m not saying you have to go kill all your food or you’re a hypocrite, that’s not true. But being so far removed from your food source can give you a whitewashed view of what that food is. The proportion of these things would change. If I had to think hard about chicken death, I may not stop eating chicken, but I may not think I should eat chicken for every meal. When you’re thinking of what you’re asking from nature, I think a significant number of people would ask less. I think being more familiar with these practices would change people’s food pyramids. What also dawned on me is the power of food to unify. Think of how big of a deal it is to share a meal with a person, the kind of social invitation that it constitutes. It seems to me then it is a big deal to be able to share food with a person unlike you which could involve sharing food unlike what you’ve really had. I’m not even talking about something radical, just the most basic kind of hospitality in that sense is a massive bridge into what a person may not even realize is an intimate tribalism, a gut reaction to what you want to eat; would I go eat there, why not? What am I willing to call weird and normal? And I don’t think people have a sense of how pregnant those terms are, ‘weird’ and ‘normal.’ There’s a very innocent way to hear ‘oh, that’s weird’ or ‘oh’ as in you’re not accustomed to it, but I think you get to a point where it means much more than that ‘oh, it’s not normal,’ it’s more about how there’s this default setting of how these trappings ought to be for everyone and that where wars start and all that.