A Particular Sadness

I’ve been slowly reading my way through The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender over the past few months.  It’s an excellent book; I am just so rarely in the mood to read lately, so I still have not finished it.  It is the story of a little girl named Rose who discovers that she can taste the emotions of the people who prepare/grow/harvest/cook the food she eats.  Through the tastes of despair, anger, sadness, and longing, she begins to learn secrets about the people closest to her.  Since most of the emotions she tastes leave her feeling empty, she also experiences despair and sadness of her own from having to avoid foods prepared by people close to her, and even by total strangers.  She starts to savor snack foods and pre-packaged “food” like Doritos so that she can consume “food” made by machines and thus avoid tasting the emotions of someone’s complicated life.  Doritos, she says, do not ask anything of you.

The idea of having this “ability” seems pretty awful to me.  I enjoy food, preparing and eating it (especially with friends and family), and if everything I ate were to bring a horrible tasting emotion with it, I would be heartbroken.  I can’t imagine a life without delicious, exciting food!  This made me wonder what life would be like if we could taste the emotions and general life experiences of the animals we eat.  If we could taste fear, suffering, abuse, neglect, and sadness, surely we wouldn’t eat animals.  It would be all too real then.  Factory farm practices we generally ignore so that we can conveniently eat our delicious burgers would be blatantly obvious to us.

Or let’s be honest, even if the planet didn’t simultaneously go veg (one can dream!) then at least it would lead to better farming practices.  Although, I think if I ate a steak and tasted happiness, love, and days filled with grazing in the warm sun, I’d still have to ask myself why an animal was denied the rest of its happy life so that I could eat.

 But either way, the world would obviously be a much different place.  And so I began to wonder this not only about meat, but about all things consumable.  What if you could taste greed in your eggs, pesticides on your carrots, or the torture of animal experimentation in your lipstick?  What if you had to think about the consequences of actions that you support every time you purchase an item?  Shouldn’t we?

I think the problem is that the food we eat doesn’t ask anything of us.  We don’t have think about where it came from, what’s in it, or if it’s safe to consume.  We assume all that is done for us by the government and the FDA.  Hell, we’re not even asked to grow,  harvest, prepare, or cook it!  We’re too far removed from these things, which is both a blessing and a curse (thank goodness we all don’t have to labor in the fields every day from sunup to sundown) and most of us are doing good just to make time to eat. 

When we stop to think about how many food recalls there have been even in the past decade, how many factory farms have been shut down due to cruelty cases, and how many food-bourne illnesses there are (47.8 million in the US alone from 2000-2007 per the CDCP) we quickly turn our minds from it and leave it up to someone else to handle.  We just can’t deal with all of that.  We have to eat, after all! 

And so all of this is a particular sadness that stays with me, rising to the surface now and again.  Going veg has changed so many things about my life and made me happier in so many ways, but there is an accompanying sadness due to the fact that I have made myself aware of issues that most people are unaware of or choose not to think about.  Still, I would never choose to forget.

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