Why Food Matters, 1

March 11, 2011

This from someone in response to my tweet this morning:

What planet are you on? The one WITHOUT thousands dying from an earthquake? SO FINE?!?!?!

I hadn’t yet read the news when I tweeted this morning – I get up early to write before making breakfast and reading the papers -  but it made me stop and think about whether I would have written something different if I’d known about the horror in Japan. 

Perhaps. But it occurs to me that this is the same planet in which an indifferent world is watching a dictator murder his people, the same planet whose richest country allows one in eight people go to bed hungry every night, the same planet on which women are being genitally mutilated, the same planet on which…..

There is no time, ever, in which a terrible disaster is not taking place somewhere on the planet.  And thanks to modern technology, we know all about it almost immediately. As I see it, we have a moral responsibility to respond to those disasters in the best ways that we can. Write letters, send money, do whatever possible to alleviate pain, end suffering and make the world a more just place.

But in the face of ongoing disaster, it is also our moral responsibility to appreciate what we have.  That is why cooking good food for the people that I love is so important to me; in a world filled with no, it is a big yes.

So eat a good breakfast. Be grateful for what you’ve got. Enjoy the sunshine while you've got it.  Then go out and save the world.

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  • I appreciate your honesty. I find it so disheartening sometimes that we’re all expected to respond with horror when something is being shoved in our faces, and then conveniently forget about it the next minute when something else happens. And you’re right– absolutely positively right– that there is always something horrible happening. To ignore it is as silly as it is to only respond when it’s socially acceptable to do so. And good god, if horrific things don’t make the sun shining on your face that much more beautiful, and give us so much more to appreciate here in a non-mutilated, non-war-ridden, non-covered-in-water place, then there really is no hope for humanity after all.
    Thank you for writing this.

  • Yes. Your last paragraph sums it up nicely. There ARE things we can do. But it’s important to me to start with gratitude…and then, go out to do the things that must be done to take care of each other.

  • I admit…I saw a tweet that was not happy with yours. I hadn’t heard either so had to do some backtracking in my tweet stream to figure out what was going on. I don’t turn on the TV in the morning, I get coffee and start working and Twitter is often where I get my news.
    That being said…I get what you’re saying. I’m supposed to go a a charity fundraiser today for Kids with Cancer, my friends in Boulder are dealing with having to evacuate their homes because of an out of control wildfire and we’re all disturbed by the event in Japan. I can care too much and am fighting to not let all of this cripple me today so looking for occasional bursts of something else to read. My heart is with them, but I also need a break from the sadness or I’m not good for anyone.

  • Right on! This is why I love your writing so darn much! Food matters.

  • Great Post. I think I’ll share it with others.

  • Thanks, Ruth. I love this post. I have struggled with this issue in my own head a lot – how do I keep writing about “normal life” with everything going on out there? You are right, every day something is happening in the world – many things – that we wish we could fix, often catastrophic events. We can only do what we can, and at the same time try to appreciate and make the world a better place in our own ways. Yours is clearly bringing good thoughts and ideas into the world about food, and I thank you for it!

  • Sinosoul says:

    Some of us just don’t have the appetite for a good breakfast after said news. I’m thinking Ghandi’s impact on the Muslims & Hindus wouldn’t have quite been the same if he went out and stuffed his face instead of fasting. Some days, food doesn’t matter. Today seems to be one of those days.

  • JuliaHidy says:

    Would be better if people would think a bit before they criticize. We need to find more ways to give each other some grace, support and overall shift to more positive forms of energy.
    Your post brings up many issues. There is no denying that the Japanese people have suffered horrifying losses today. Families will be forever scarred and changed with many months, years or even decades needed to rebuild. We have to hope the nuclear plant affected does not cause even more damage to the area and globally (via winds). We cannot change what did happen today.
    We can change how we react to the disaster. Being empathetic, supportive and engaging ourselves, families and communities to reach out is our opportunity to help. Being empathetic has to extend to others not directly involved – in all ways. Many people will do what they can to help. But helping still means we need to keep our own lives moving forward or we all suffer just a bit more. And that’s not purposeful.
    I’d watched CNN and other stations to see what had happened this morning. Then tweeted and did what I could to offer e-resources for others. I don’t turn on my TV usually until after 6 p.m. Often I don’t log onto social media networks until later in the afternoon, so it was only because I checked the weather today that I found out at all. This is the case for many. The person making the critical comments could not emotionally cope with their own upset and ‘transferred’ their upset beyond themselves – a kind of ‘venting.’ Their venting should not have landed on you. That’s wrong…simply wrong. It’s too bad this is what happened to you.
    These kinds of natural disasters need us to stay balanced and centered so we can send out calming, healing energy and thoughts to others. Being freaked out, blaming kind of energy never helped anyone anywhere anyhow. Those who are ‘called’ to get involved will.
    After a few hours of watching CNN, I’d gathered all the info I could. I twittered info that I’d hoped could help someone somewhere. I’ll continue to help wherever I can. But I also have a responsibility to keep doing what I need to do. I also completely get why you say there are so many things going on in the world that are travesties or horrific. Hunger in our own communities and homelessness are huge issues that did not get covered this morning on CNN. We need to help out as best we can in our part of the world as well as beyond our shores.
    After the few hours of watching the events replayed – as is the case when there’s only limited footage – I stopped and did what any foodie does to ground their energy: I tuned in to The Food Network. That way, I could get get my vibe into the place where I could resume being productive, write again.
    I’ll readdress what’s happened in Japan soon enough. Sitting here freaked out doesn’t do me or anyone in Japan any favors. I’d rather stay in the vibe that will help the survivors – on some subtle, yet deep level of awareness. Our Japanese con freres and con soeurs (tr. brothers and sisters) need to think clearly so they can be resourceful, and begin to sort through the damage and human impacts so they can do what they have to do to survive. Their sadness and tragedy is ours too, but we can help them more by being encouraging of them and not critical of each other.
    Thanks, Ruth. I’ll be sure to retweet your post.

  • PurpleFoodie says:

    So true and so aptly put together.

  • Imontome says:

    I find a level of mindfulness in what you write on twitter about food – it is less about what you are eating than your awareness and presence in that moment.
    Losing our minds in grief over the tragedy in Japan, or the other tragedies in our world, will not do anything to change them. Allowing ourselves to be pulled into an energy of panic will not help those people who are affected.
    When we ground ourselves, however each of us do that, we can truly be of service… and quietly pray.

  • Through all of the personal and family tragedies my husband and I have experienced and dealt with these past few years and as we watch all the horror going on in the world around us, there are certain things that keep us going: looking for the good in the world and other people. Friends and family. Love. Great food. In order for each of us to keep on going we each must find some good, some happiness in the face of sadness and tragedy. Thank heavens some of us do have the possibility to enjoy and share great food with people we love.

  • Thank you for acknowledging the important things. Family and friends make life worth living and sharing food with them makes it even better. If we only looked at tragedy and wallowed in it we would be doing a disservice to ourselves and the world.

  • Tetsu_yahagi says:

    I saw devastating pictures that made me emotional.
    I was anxious about my family and friends safety in Tokyo that I couldn’t get a hold of.
    But my job is to make good food and bring a small happiness to the guests that visit my restaurant.
    To not let the fear swallow me, I had to cook.
    Food matters. Cooking is my strength.
    Ruth, it was nice having you there in the beautiful Friday afternoon.

  • Jayqueeze says:

    As much as I love your writing, your books, your work on Gourmet, I wonder, as a fellow editor, how you think a “country” can “allow” people to go hungry. As much as the U.S. does not contribute as much to humanitarian causes as countries like Canada or Sweden, I’m not sure it “allows” people to die from hunger.

  • You are one wonderful woman. AMEN.

  • Shiprab says:

    Thank you for saying it so well.
    In reponse to Sinosoul: I think the best way to take the point being made here is that it isn’t just about food. It’s about being grateful for what you have and doing the best you can in your life in whatever it is that you do, whether you’re a teacher, a doctor, a cook, a mother. Be grateful and be strong and Help in whatever way you can.

  • spot on.
    I would also tell those angry twitterati (insert social network of choice) that adding insult to injury doesn’t make anything any better.
    it seems to me some people tend to use an (ever so brief) temporary informative advantage in a rather bizarre manner. we will all read the news at some point. what we do with them is our business.
    kicking up a tremendous fuss publicly does not make us better people either. oh well…
    (this ninja came here by way of molly of orangette. glad to have read you)

  • Ruth Reichl says:

    Jayqueeze: I’m not talking about humanitarian aid to some far off corner of the world. I’m talking about Americans – mostly children – who are hungry. If you believe – as I do – that a wealthy nation has a responsibility to care for its less fortunate citizens, then yes, this country allows people to go hungry. We should be ashamed that we allow it to happen.

  • M Williams says:

    Thank you — so much said in such a short essay. Also thank you to commenter Tetsu_yahagi. And to Molly at Orangette (http://orangette.blogspot.com/), who also sent me here.

  • GlobalTable says:

    When there is tragedy, sadness and helplessness abounds. Often people are looking for something else to focus on – to help uplift them from their despair. Sometimes carrying on is the best we can do to provide that distraction for others. Great article.

  • Bhvhankes says:

    Your words just made my morning a little brighter. Thank you.

  • Thank you for your post. Well said

  • Anita Walker says:

    Ruth, I agree with all you said. It’s not right to sit gawping at hours of coverage on the TV (‘earthquake porn’ someone in the UK has called it). I’m truly grateful that I live somewhere safe away from dictators, devastaion and that I never go hungry or lonely. My sister-in-law is Japanese and thank God her family is safe. There is not much I can do apart from offer her my time – I can take some time off work and look after their 4 children so she can fly home to take care of her parents. I can also make a donation to the Red Cross instead of buying my usual 3 daily coffee’s. We can all find a way to make a small difference and at the same time give thanks for what we have. The man who floated on his roof for two days in the Pacific ocean has humbled me with his courage. We owe it to all those who have lost their lives to hug our loved ones a little closer today.

  • christine says:

    Amen Ruth! In my parish we’re praying for the people of Japan and sending donations via the Catholic Relief Services who are there right now helping out however they can,bless them! There is never a time when others are not in need. Ever. Thanks for your post.

  • Survival guilt can be so unproductive, that’s what I was faced with all of Friday. I like your response much more.

  • Tana Butler says:

    Hello, everybody. I am the person who Tweeted back to Ruth, and she was gracious enough to take the high road. I believe she did that because she rightly understood that, in the midst of the overwhelming images and news coming to us that day, maybe my passions and feelings overcame me.
    What she didn’t know was that I’d spent the morning live-tweeting the effects of the tsunami on Santa Cruz, one of the two towns in California worst affected. I live here. But she didn’t know that, and I only knew that her single Tweet of utter serenity just plain made me snap.
    I’m not proud that I didn’t slow my heartbeat down, and ask myself, “Now, maybe it’s possible she hasn’t heard the news yet.” Neither am I ashamed of myself, not in the LEAST. I’m a human: we make mistakes. If we are good humans, we come forth and, in this case, hold out the hand of forgiveness or compassion, as Ruth has done with me. For that, I am grateful.
    Likewise, I am a person who utterly believes in trying to focus on beauty in a world with so much ugliness. That’s why I photograph, and write about, farms. And babies, food, flowers, and more. That’s why I read books like “Comfort Me with Apples” instead of listen to FAUX NEWS.
    My philosophy (when I’m feeling safe) is from “The Year of Living Dangerously.” In the words of character Billy Kwan, “Add your light to the sum of light.” That said, I don’t suffer fools gladly, and will happily go on a rant about (for example) pinhead publicists who contact me to promote their unhealthy, unholy products. Oh, I can be mean to corporate minions. (And I’m proud of THAT. And it’s deliciously fun.)
    Ruth, I will continue to love and admire you. I have told MANY people that I read three good books that made me laugh and sob in 2003. “Comfort Me with Apples,” “Seabiscuit,” and oddly enough, Anthony (Ruth) Bourdain’s “A Cook’s Tour.”
    I do believe you understand why I responded as I did, and that I, too, treasure making the perfect breakfast for my boys: “eggy-weggies” (over medium) on sourdough toast with sliced tomatoes or tiny new potatoes in their jackets, seared and salted. Maybe some bacon, if we’re feeling flush My “boys” are my husband of 20 years) and our beloved grandson, Logan, who just turned seven. We’ve been raising him for most of his life, and he IS the sunshine we’ve got.
    Many kind thanks for your graciousness, Ruth.
    Tana Butler

  • Tana Butler says:

    Ack. I hate typos.
    CORRECTION: Maybe some bacon, if we’re feeling flush. My “boys” are my husband of 20 years and our beloved grandson, Logan, who just turned seven.

  • Ruth Reichl says:

    Tana, thank you so much for this. I am humbled – and amazed – by the reaction to this post. I can’t ever remember feeling as sad or as scared as I’ve been watching this unfolding catastrophe in Japan. But as I read these responses I am reminded that it it is not only important to be grateful for what we have. It is also important, when faced with fear, that we remember to be kind to one another. We need that right now.

  • Really impressed by your response Ruth, and Tana’s follow up. I wish we saw this level of civility and grace more in our society. I’m really glad I ran across this post today.

  • The most basic of human needs…food…water…love. Food and water sustain our lives in the midst of tragedy or joy and love provides the reason for the living.
    Thanks for this thoughtful, insightful post.

  • Catfranklin says:

    You are a class act Ruth Reichl.

  • Jill N says:

    Without gratitude and good food, what would be the point of getting up in the morning? I so feel for those who must go hungry when there is such overabundance in the US and elsewhere.
    I say that if you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t take care of others. I agree with your idea of having a good breakfast and then saving the world.
    I suggest that one way to be sure that more people get fed is to eat more plant based foods regularly. What if everyone had Meatless Mondays? And other days to boot?

  • Kecone says:

    I’m coming into this late, but I begin each morning by meditating, where I send good energy to friends and the world. I then try to do some writing. Media is not allowed first thing, or it messes with the creative process. So I didn’t hear about the earthquake or tsunami until later that morning.
    Ruth, I think you wrote a beautiful piece in response to what must have been a jarring message. And for both of you to “take the high road” is a correct step in peace-making.
    As for food, by honoring the food we have, cooking and serving it with reverence, we also honor the victims of Japan’s disaster.
    Kate Cone,
    Waterville, Maine

  • hai this is chocolate.This from someone in response to my tweet this morning.So eat a good breakfast. Be grateful for what you’ve got. Enjoy the sunshine while you’ve got it. Then go out and save the world.

  • hai this is chocolate.This from someone in response to my tweet this morning.So eat a good breakfast. Be grateful for what you’ve got. Enjoy the sunshine while you’ve got it. Then go out and save the world.