On Not Taking Food for Granted

For many people in our society, it’s very easy to take food for granted. We have access to so much all the time that it’s a shock when we can’t have something right when want it. I remember that feeling some from the early days of the pandemic, when there were disruptions to the food supply – but of course, I could get other things instead.


But that’s not true all the time. Depending on your circumstances, you might not get the food you need. And when that happens, food takes on a whole new meaning.


Carrying your own food

What got me thinking about this was reading The Sun Is a Compass: A 4,000-Mile Journey into the Alaskan Wilds by Caroline Van Hemert. As the title describes, this memoir is of Van Hemert and her husband making an incredible journey by rowboats (that her husband built) and by foot across 4,000 miles.


Preparing for the trip was enormously complicated, not least because of food. As she wrote: “To feed ourselves for this long, we’ll need a thousand pounds of nonperishable food purchased, sorted, and crammed into Ziploc bags…. Seventeen resupply packages must meet us at exactly the right time and place.” (p.64)


And of course, since they were carrying their food, they couldn’t plan for extras or any leeway in their meals. If they had packed excess food, they simply wouldn’t have had the strength to carry it.


I’ve never experienced that, but this is always something I think about when I go on long hikes. When you’re carrying enough food and water for a day, and a day when you’re using a lot of energy, you realize just how much it weighs – particularly if you want to bring any produce.


At least when I’m hiking, I’m not going very far, so barring a major disaster (such as getting lost), I’m not likely to suffer too much if I don’t bring quite enough food. For Van Hemert and her husband, though, their situation was much less forgiving.


They found that out the hard way when a plane was supposed to do an airdrop to restock their food supplies, but poor weather delayed the plane – by four days. And they had nothing to eat to tide them over. Without food, they also didn’t have the strength to hike to the next town.


When the plane finally arrived, they were fatigued and beyond hungry. She wrote: “We open the first box before the plane is taxiing and cram Snickers bars, peanut butter, crackers, and trail mix into our mouths in a frenzy. Within minutes, we’ve eaten more than the sum of the previous week combined.” (p. 264)



Appreciating what food gives us

Reading about their experience made me realize how easy it is to forget what food truly does for us.


Most days, I don’t wait to eat until I get extremely hungry since I know that tends to backfire. Eating when I’m moderately hungry is satisfying, but because the hunger isn’t that intense, it feels more like an inconvenience.


That, in turn, can make it easy to take food for granted without acknowledging that it’s necessary for survival and for doing my best work.


Plus, there’s the enjoyment of how food tastes, how it connects people, and that eating provides a built-in opportunity to slow down and take a break.


So while I don’t want to be in the starvation situation that Van Hemert found herself in, I do want to try to remember to feel grateful for everything that food gives me.

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