Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Survivor Shoney's

I propose the all-you-can-eat buffet line is an excellent military training ground, and no place for the doves among us. What can you expect but trouble, when strangers armed with forks square off for the dearest of prizes known in all of evolution? Food. There sits the mother lode — a bottomless treasure chest spilling forth golden macaroni and cheese, winking seductively in the perfect light. Mothers with small children must take them up into protective arms, grandmothers get knocked down for the last piece of apple strudel, and entire trays of fried chicken get carted off by the most aggressive of our species.

I’ve been thinking lately about all the times I’ve witnessed selfish or angry or sensitive behavior around food. It’s not limited to the buffet line. I once had a date take my head off because I playfully took one of his French fries, as though come the dawn all fries would experience the Rapture. A friend seemed to writhe in pain if I looked across the table as she was eating — “Don’t watch me!” (“Okayyy. We’ll talk after lunch … ’’) And I’ve been glared at for casually saying someone’s meal in a restaurant looked good, as though I was going to ask the diner to give it up.

Some fraction of people seem extraordinarily touchy-touchy about food. I’ve begun to wonder about the evolutionary reasons, or the cultural, ancient tribal norms that unconsciously made their way through some family lines. Anyone who’s watched a PBS series on any of the great apes has probably seen murderous squabbles for food. That date of mine with the fries sure looked like an ape, throwing an arm around his plate and sulking over the rest of his dinner. As for tribal “norms,” Colin Turnbull’s The Mountain People will make even hawks cower, at just how depraved about food we humans can be. It is a shocking antithesis of hisThe Forest People, about a peaceful, loving, hunter-gatherer group, which many likely have read in college.

 Some of the jacket quotes:

“A beautiful and terrifying book of a people who have become monstrous almost beyond belief …. As Turnbull’s writing weaves in and out between outrageous acts and his own outrage, he emphasizes again and again how fragile the structure of a society is.” — Margaret Mead

“An important book, for it represents an anthropological field study of a unique people — a people who are dying because they have abandoned their humanity. The parallel with our own society is deadly.” — Ashley Montagu

Indeed. We’ve been known to kill and be killed in the paradigm of the scarcity model. But that’s not all we’ve been known for. As oil dwindles and the impossibility of limitless growth becomes apparent, we will have to cooperate. My family’s dabbling in a homestead makes that abundantly clear. A dairy and lots of other similar endeavors are full-time operations far beyond our humble capabilities. Veterinarians, mechanics, construction workers, and so many others have skills we could never hope to collect up in one family, in their entirety. We can’t save seed for everything we grow, because so many plants hybridize, creating something uncertain and probably inedible in their next generation. Small farmers will have to work together, to put some distance between certain food plants so that they don’t cross …

On and on the examples could go. We’re in for a bumpy ride, and I expect, some heightened “Mountain People”-like behavior — depraved, monstrous — on macro- and micro-levels. But let’s not forget:  in our whole human existence, egalitarianism didn’t completely suck, as a survival strategy. Often, it undoubtedly saved us.