Tangible and Sensory Experiences as Ways of Emotional and Somatic Knowledge
Food can serve to take abstract and intangible ideas and re-encapsulate them into palpable and palatable knowing. When trying to encourage climate change contemplation at both micro and macro social levels, it is ‘suggested that it is non-rational qualities such as attentiveness, responsiveness and emotiveness that lie at the heart of ethical relations’ and are ‘just as important as other more rational ways of knowing’ (Nabhan et al., 2010, p. 216). There is recognition among food studies that food purchased directly from farms and/or growers holds distinctly more positive ‘symbolic and material qualities’ than supermarket purchases (Richardson- Ngwenya and Richardson, 2013, p. 4). In addition, the type of food that is purchased often promotes diversity and health and can serve as a learning opportunity. According to Kneafsey et al. (2008) almost 40% of the US population consumes organic food products. This shows opportunity for increases in food diversity, organic products and in active civic sustainable food consumption.
Working to reconnect traveller to travelled space is by no means the only way to strengthen Westerners’ connections to the natural world. It is but one sensuous entry point out of many that would allow us to better feel the flesh of nature against our own. Ultimately, the goal of an embodied environmental politic is to bring people back into a sensuous kinship with
the natural world - in their travel, play, work and rest - so this world can
again be experienced from within. (Hinrichs and Lyson, 2007, p. 230)
The need for alternate ways of knowing is further supported by Nicholls (2013, p. 43), who explains that learning processes need to be contextualized ‘in terms of the co-emergence of learner and environment’ (re-inhabitation), a participatory consciousness that posits ‘an active interplay, or coupling, between the perceiving body and that which it perceives’. In order to move towards more sustainable rural, peri-urban and urban livelihoods, Turner (2011) calls for a need to go beyond the disembodied citizen-consumer.
There are numerous rituals related to food in ancient and modern culture. Carolan (2009, p. 13) conducted a longitudinal empirical study focused on adult education for critical transformation and found that the majority of the participants were ‘engaging in spiritual explorations as part of a commitment to sustainability’. One interesting example that surfaced, both during empirical data collection in the US and during personal travels to India, is the concept of Prasad. Prasad can be explained as ‘food that has been offered to temple deities, blessed by them, and then made available to devotees for consumption’ (Lange, 2008, p. 218). Prasad is both a historical and contemporary Hindu tradition involving the offering of edible food for spiritual honouring and recognition of energetic exchange between humans, deities and the physical world/environment.
This community connection between natural systems and ritualized behaviour is one that stands to remind people of the lull cycles of human dependence on ecosystems. A revived, renewed or continued approach to ritualizing food could be a link to enacted climate consciousness. Mindful eating, intentional consumption and spiritual ritual do not have to be lost with traditional communities but are dynamic elements of modernity. Understanding this link to the potential of generating deeper climate consciousness through ritualizing food is of importance. Anthropological explorations of the role that food plays in this context involve ‘cosmologies, worldviews and ways of life’ and how taste and ‘other sensory experiences of food’ become central to such perspectives (Madden and Finch, 2006, pp. 92-93). The term ‘gustemology’ is used to describe an approach to these sensory experiences around food and how they relate to a myriad of cultural issues.
Irrelevant of the spiritual, religious or cultural affiliation, it cannot be denied that eating is one of the most primordial, ancient and transboundary experiences humans engage in many times a day. Sutton (2010, p. 215) states ‘the eating of food ... is one of the most intimate of relationships we, as corporeal beings and bodies, can have with the world, with others, with nature’. In furthering the discussion around food, place and identity, the Hindu notion of Prasad (in the context of traditional India and contemporary America) is one example of alternate ways of food embodiment and place. Madden and Finch (2006, p. 90) discuss the role that Prasad plays to connect people to place.
It has become common in food theory studies to argue, ‘You are what you eat.’ And in Hindu studies, it is common to note that you are ‘from whom you eat.’ That is from whom you do and do not receive food indicates who you are. I would argue that studying food, utopias, and Hindus in America leads to another pithy saying; you are where you eat.
The requirement to consume food may be biological, however, the ways in which it is harvested, prepared and consumed are cultural (Madden and Finch, 2006). The socio-naturescape merges with the cultural cuisine over generations to form foodscapes. This type of encapsulated food culture experience is in direct juxtaposition to the globalized food system and the ever-increasing industrialized fast food-based world. The interrelationship between discourse of strong and purposeful political palates and the role this plays with notions of the interconnection to time, leisure and food is a platform for a critique of the MacDonaldization effect.
The foodscape that we create and consume is a temporal reminder of the types of interactions we are facilitating with our lifeworld. The local movement and notions of eating as a locavore have come to the forefront of food related studies. The relationship between place and identity can be understood through food (Gruenewald, 2003). Feagan’s (2007) review of small-scale farms in both Norway and Scotland demonstrates that the farms can serve as a radical break with neoliberal universalism and can fulfil implicit social contributions to sustainability along with economic, environmental and cultural aspects of rural places. Thus, there are strong arguments for the role that local foods and their local production, distribution and consumption can play in linking people to landscape, emotion and community.