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Deconstructing Dinner: Reconstructing Our Food System
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Weekly Column
March 9, 2008


Deconstructing Dinner



Through the pursuit of happiness, can we become more ecological citizens?


Jon Steinman


Bite by bite, Deconstructing Dinner seeks to take apart the origins of our food and better determine the impacts our food choices have.


However, when discovering the extent of such impacts, it can become quite clear how our daily routines do not allow us adequate time to incorporate more mindful eating.


In her most recent book, Slow is Beautiful New Visions of Community, Leisure and Joie de Vivre, Seattle resident and Author Cecile Andrews seeks to understand why conducting more environmentally and socially responsible lives is so difficult.


As a reponse to this question, Andrews' book becomes an ideal launching point to calm the consternation that results when we become aware of the damage inflicted by our North American lifestyles.


A substantial opportunity is before us: Environmental awareness has skyrocketed, and we are now presented with a greater chance of effecting change through redefining how we live. However, choosing a new path too hastily may only lead us further astray from the most ideal direction.


The most publicized efforts to become more ecological citizens have come in the form of carbon taxes, reduced use of motorized vehicles, and the replacing of incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescents among others. While these efforts may all exact a positive outcome, could we be getting ahead of ourselves? Perhaps we need to first look at where we came from before we seek to look ahead to where we are going.


Cecile Andrews believes that analyzing what makes us happy is the best place to begin, and proposes that understanding happiness requires a more historical approach. "If you think back to our time as hunters and gatherers, maybe one day you would kill a deer and everyone would eat a lot, and another day you wouldn't, and you would eat less," says Andrews. "Now, we just have food available all the time." Andrews suggests that this model of convenience has had a confusing impact on our "feast or famine" intuitions.


"We're a young culture, and getting more did [once] make us happier, because we began with very little," says Andrews. "So you wanted more so you could feel you had enough to eat and had enough security, and this made us happy." Andrews considers this our "tragic flaw"; that the same intuitions that once drove our survival and happiness no longer work. Instead, taking the place of our inherent drive to find food, we now find other consumable materials and activities to fill the gap.


Andrews clearly disagrees that having more stuff, more status and more prestige will make us happy. "After a certain point, more money, more stuff, does not make you happier. It just doesn't, yet we go on assuming it does," stresses Andrews.


Could this misappropriation of our inclinations be the force behind our destructive consumer culture?


Slow is Beautiful provides readers with a number of options on how to scale back our consumptive quest for happiness. Instead, the book emphasizes the importance of seeking happiness through the quality, and not quantity, of our daily experiences.


Food is an ideal place to begin suggests Andrews. "Our relationship to food is our relationship to life." The convenience of our food supply certainly carries with it a heavy social and environmental cost. Perhaps the greatest impact of our conventional food system has been the luxury we are afforded of not requiring to think twice about where our food comes from. "Food has become a symbol of not thinking about the quality of what we have," adds Andrews.


Andrews believes the speed at which so many of us "gobble" down our food without tasting it, acts as an ideal metaphor to how we experience life. "I really think deconstructing food is an incredible metaphor. If you stop and think about your relationship to food, maybe you'll change your relationship to life."


This is the underlying theme of Slow is Beautiful; that so long as we seek quality in our experiences instead of quantity of experiences, happiness will increase. As happiness increases, so to will our ability and desire to be more mindful, and more mindful living carries with it a lighter footprint on our planet.


Among the many steps that the book lays out for those seeking greater happiness and more mindful living, is one exemplified in the title - slowing down. "Mindfulness is like going through your day in a way that you notice things, that you connect with it," highlights Andrews. "If you're going fast through your day, you're not noticing anything, and you're not experiencing happiness. When we talk about savouring our food, we're talking about savouring our lives."


Slow is Beautiful New Visions of Community, Leisure and Joie de Vivre

Cecile Andrews

New Society Publishers

ISBN: 9780865715547, $19.95


Deconstructing Dinner is heard on radio stations across Canada and is available as a Podcast. An audio interview with Cecile Andrews can be found at (





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