There are lots of hard problems that require our thoughtful attention—poverty, climate change, quantum entanglement, or how to make a living, just for starters. But food? Worthy of thought? Most philosophers have ignored food as a proper topic of philosophical inquiry.
On the surface, it seems there are only three questions about food worth considering: Do you have enough? Is it nutritious? And does it taste good? If you have the wherewithal to read this you probably have enough food. Questions of nutrition can be answered by consulting your doctor or favorite nutritionist. And surely it doesn't take thought to figure out what tastes good.
But when we look more deeply at food we find some important issues lurking beneath the surface about which philosophy has traditionally been concerned. How we farm, what we eat, and how we cook have important social, political, and ethical ramifications—ramifications so important that we cannot think of these issues as purely private matters any longer. Some of the aforementioned “hard problems” have a lot to do with food. Our food distribution networks are anything but fair leaving many people without enough to eat; and our food production and consumption patterns cause substantial environmental harm in part because of their impact on climate change. Our resource- intensive way of life, supported by an economic system that requires constant growth, is unsustainable especially because the rest of the world would like to emulate it. For example, it is estimated that if everyone in the world consumed our meat-heavy diet, we would need two planet earths to supply sufficient land, feed, and water.
We must learn to live differently, and that means, fundamentally, learning to desire differently—and to desire food differently.
Zev Robinson, an Anglo-Canadian filmmaker and painter whose award-winning work in several media goes back to the 1980s, will present his documentary, Arribes: Everything Else is Noise, in Marbella, on October 5, 2013. If you are reading from Spain, join him — see link below. Arribes focuses on a traditonal way of life and its relationship to agriculture, food, and sustainability in the Arribes, Sayago and Abadengo regions in northwest Spain, along the Duero River. Natives to this region are about 80-90% self-sufficient. What have they to teach us?
All photos, including stills from Arribes: Everything Else Is Noise,
are used with permission of Zev Robinson and/or Albertina Torres. To make inquiries as to further use of these materials, write to the artists, contact info below.
Elatia Harris: Zev, you are one of the ultimate city boys. How likely a story is this? That you would come to live in a rural Spanish village, and then spend years creating an intimate portrait of an even more isolated and distant region of Spain?
Zev Robinson: It was a long process of discovery. The last place I thought I’d end up, after living in several large cities including New York and London, was a Spanish village of fewer than 800 people, where my wife is from, and where my father-in-law works and harvests his vineyards.
When we lived in London, I remember looking at a bottle of wine in a supermarket that originated from this region, and thinking how few people understood all that went into its making. After we moved here, I was taking a walk through the vineyards one day, and got the idea of making a short film about how the grape gets from the vines here to bottles in the UK.
EH: Are you a wine connoisseur — in a big way?
ZR: I knew nothing about wine at the beginning of all this, but am always interested in processes, the history that brings an object into being.