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The Double-Edged Sword


FOOD FOR THOUGHT - April 27, 2005 - Mark R. Vogel - - Archive

I finally got fed up with the mouse droppings in my kitchen. Time had proved that the little varmit was not a transient visitor. No more Mr. Nice Guy.  Mickey’s day of reckoning had come.  Employing a humane mousetrap baited with a medley of cereal grains, I had the fecal-dispersing vermin incarcerated in no time.  And before you animal crusaders out there flood me with outraged e-mails, I released his furry little butt unharmed, in a wooded area a few miles away.

     OK so where am I going with this? The point is that I was able to capture this elusive and nimble little critter, because he needed to eat.  Except maybe for an opposite sex mouse at the right biological time, nothing else could compel a rodent to enter a mousetrap.  Much like humans, one of our greatest biological needs, which can be one of life’s simplest pleasures, can also be one of our greatest vulnerabilities.

     It is absurdly obvious to state that we would perish without food.  Nothing short of air is so immediately necessary for our survival.  (I’m including water under the rubric of “food”). Even after a full meal, it’s just a matter of hours until our body signals us for additional energy. If you think about it, we encounter the earliest phase of starvation every day of our lives, i.e., that first hunger pang. 

     And while it is necessary for life, food can also be dangerous. It can be spoiled with innumerable forms of microorganisms or toxins.  Individuals have died choking on food.  Ironically, the very substance needed to sustain life, can terminate it.  Moreover, much like my unwanted house guest, the quest for food can bring us into peril. Anything that is mandatory for existence can drive an organism to risk danger for its acquisition. Although this is far less true in the modern era, one can only speculate how many early humans died prematurely in accidents, acts of nature, or as food themselves in their search for sustenance. 

     Conversely, eating is inherently pleasurable. When we eliminate modern society’s impediments to food, we are left with a fundamentally satisfying endeavor.  Via a combination of sensual stimulation and life preservation, taking in nourishment is innately gratifying and fulfills us on our most primitive level. 


     Mankind has irrevocably intertwined food into most of its festive, familial, spiritual and social events.  It’s unheard of for any holiday, family get-together, or celebration of one of life’s milestones to be performed in the absence of food and drink. Food is a celebration of life and will eternally be linked with the joyous moments of our existence.

     Maybe it’s precisely because food, or a lack there of, can spell our demise that we have so thoroughly woven it into the fabric of our social structure. This is an unconscious, psycho-evolutionary defense that transforms one of our most dire vulnerabilities into a jubilant component of the life process. Maybe we need the specter of death to fully embrace life.  A classic yin-yang scenario in which opposite yet complementary forces exist within each other, and cannot exist without the other.

     To further elucidate the notion that food is so much a part of life because it can be a part of death, consider the intriguing example of modern society.  Clearly the dangers of food gathering, tainted food, and starvation are minimal at best in current American society. Thus, the “dark side” of nourishment has diminished with man’s progression. Yet interestingly, food is not embraced to the extent today as it was in the past.   Ages ago, when food was more scarce or difficult to obtain, families were always united for dinner. Meals were prepared from scratch on a daily basis. Meal time was not just a micro waved burrito between work and other errands, it was a time for people to bond, communicate, socialize, and relax. It was a cornerstone to daily living.

     In contrast, today’s hectic, business oriented society has produced the “fast-food” mentality.  For many, eating is just a pain-in-the-neck.  An obligatory practice that disrupts one’s schedule.  An added expense. Food selection and preparation is just another chore to be performed after a grueling day.  Indeed, there are some people who would be delighted if they never had to enter a crowded supermarket again. Or, in yet another typical example of modern culture, eating is an anxiety plagued ritual for those with various bodily concerns and/or food neuroses.  People didn’t count carbs at the dinner table in 1850. They counted their blessings.

     Thus, is it a coincidence that the risks associated with food, and the role food plays in our lives have both declined on a parallel course?  I think not.  If we were the mouse we’d never get caught inside the trap.  We’d only patronize the ones with drive thrus.

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